New CD Review – Yuri Liberzon plays Konstantin Vassiliev, Guitar Works 1

Virtuoso guitarist, Yuri Liberzon, has just released a wonderful recording dedicated to the works of Russian composer Konstantin Vassiliev. On first listen, it is evident that there is a current of very high quality running through this recording – the music is played with the usual high musical standard I have come to expect from Yuri (and on a few tracks by his Duo Equilibrium partner, Patrick O’Connell) and recorded masterfully by Norbert Kraft on the NAXOS label. If you are not familiar with Vassiliev’s compositions for guitar, the selected pieces from the project span over 20 years of stylistically-diverse musical output and states a strong case for including Konstantin Vassiliev compositions in the modern guitar compositional canon.

The CD opens with Vassiliev’s Hommage a Tom Jobim. A great opener, the three movement piece evokes the spirit of Jobim’s music with Brazilian grooviness, rich harmonies, and an ample assortment of percussive effects. Yuri’s flexible technique makes all of it sound so natural that it is easy to forget you are listening to just one guitar. The middle movement Contemplación, with it’s meditative melodic quality allows Yuri’s expressivity to shine through.

photo credit: Jon McCormack

In both Cavatina and A Rose in the Snow (written for Yuri), Vassiliev’s use of jazz harmonies is magical and thoroughly convincing. Yuri’s crisp and clear sound portrays the soundscapes openly and without pretension. The earliest work on the CD, Fatum, was one of my favorites. Perhaps a bit more of an emotionally-laden piece, the themes woven through the piece are masterfully enveloped with rich counterpoint, canonic echos, and evocative elaborations, and clearly point to the fact that Vassiliev’s compositional talents were firmly in place decades ago. This work also highlights some of the qualities I admire most in Yuri’s playing, namely, his sense of pace and rhythm. The arc of the work is masterfully revealed only as Yuri can do.

Another wonderful composition is A Wanderer in Time. The emotions Vassiliev captures throughout the piece, from sadness to hope, is a testament to his ability to let a story unfold. Obrio and Two Russian Pieces were ear-opening and an effective way to guide the project to an end by adding another guitar. Yuri and Patrick complement each other well throughout these technically demanding pieces.

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to a recording from beginning to end of a composer’s music that I am not very familiar with and found this particular CD particularly compelling. It is no wonder why other notable players like Carlo Marchione and Roman Viazovskiy champion his music. Give this a listen, Yuri’s playing is fantastic and the music is wonderful.