Internationally known guitarist David Russell has always liked Baroque music, but in recent years it’s become one of his biggest musical pleasures. His latest album contains works by Baroque composers including J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti.
Russell’s transcriptions of Sonatas K. 490 and K. 491 by Scarlatti and Partita I by Bach are featured during his recital at St. John’s College on Friday night as a guest of the Santa Fe Concert Association.
Transcribing pieces written for other instruments, particularly the keyboard and violin, is an important part of Russell’s musical life.
“I love transcribing because it gives me access to repertoire I normally couldn’t play,” said Russell. “I read a piece through and know pretty immediately if it can be transcribed. Sometimes I don’t end up playing a transcription in concert. Some are more successful than others. I have as many unsuccessful ones as successful ones.”
The key to a successful transcription of a work for guitar boils down to one simple question he asks himself.
“If the piece gains something by what the guitar can do, then the transcription works,” he said. “If not, if the piece loses too much, then I consider the transcription unsuccessful.”
Russell’s Santa Fe concert includes four transcribed works and one that was written for the guitar.
He opens with Fernando Sor’s Fantasia in D Major. Sor was a late-18th/early-19th-century Spanish classical guitarist and composer who fled to Paris in 1813 after Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain. When he was rejected as a composer by the French within two years of settling in Paris, he moved to London. His latter years, the time during which he composed the majority of his guitar works, were spent back in France.
In addition to playing Bach and Scarlatti, Russell plays his transcriptions of Valses Poéticos by Enrique Granados and Capricho Catalán, Granada and Asturias by Isaac Albéniz.
A Grammy Award winner in 2005 for his CD “Aire Latino,” Russell has received many honors for his playing including the 2003 Medal of Honor of the Conservatory of the Balearics, honorary membership in Spain’s Amigos de la Guitarra society in 2009 and first place in the Andrés Segovia, José Ramírez and Francisco Tárrega competitions. He was named a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Music in London in 1997.
Russell spends nine months of the year touring the world, appearing regularly at halls in New York, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Madrid, Toronto and Rome. Before traveling to Santa Fe, he was a visiting artist at the University of Arizona, where he coached students and helped them prepare for a recital.