Latin American Music by Hal Isbitz
John Arpin, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
At Midnight / Blue Gardenia / Caterina / Copacabana / Dolores / The Flirt / Margarita / La Mariposa / Meditation / Miranda / Morelia / Pierrette.
The compositions of California composer Hal Isbitz are challenging. Endowed with a unique beauty, they are also "high maintenance" pieces, requiring almost daily practice to keep them at performance level and most pianists do well to keep one or two of them in their repertoire. Recording a dozen is within the capability of only a handful of dedicated and talented artists.
John Arpin is such an artist. A prodigious sight-reader and highly skilled pianist, he could probably have approached these pieces matter-of-factly and rendered an acceptable recording. That he chose not to is a testament to the caliber of the artist and the quality of the music. The project was undertaken with considerable love and care and the result is simply wonderful. They are programmed alphabetically, which is an interesting approach that works here because of the unique character of each composition.
Latin rhythms predominate and tempos are in the range of slow to medium, with only Miranda being sprightly. Arpin has captured the intended emotion of each piece and adjectives flowed freely as I listened. At Midnight is delicate, Blue Gardenia has anxious moments and Caterina, one of my favorites, exudes sweet harmony with a regal-sounding key change in the trio. Copacabana, as you might expect, is lively, Dolores is haunting with a triumphant trio and The Flirt is unabashedly romantic.
Margarita, Isbitz's best-known tango and arguably his finest work, is also romantic, while La Mariposa (The Butterfly) flits appropriately and Meditation lives up to its name. Miranda is graceful, Morelia is wistful with a strident trio and Pierrette closes the disc in a reflective mood. Arpin offers hints of rubato in just the right places and his touch - ahhh, the touch! The keys are caressed with affection and lush tones are lovingly released. Even in the forte passages the sense is not of pounding the ivories but of requesting - and receiving - a richer, fuller tone.
Hal Isbitz is among the very finest of today's composers of ragtime and new world music. John Arpin's reputation as one of the world's best pianists is well deserved. Blending these two names together on the same CD is an opportunity for you that should not be missed! Very highly recommended.
Distributed in the U.S. by Allegro. Available from Tower Records, Amazon.com or other major outlets, or write to EMI Music Canada, 3109 American Drive, Mississauga, Ont. L4V 1B2 Canada. Price may vary.