Performer Press Quotes
“David Leisner, a superb guitarist (and also an eloquent composer) who is chairman of the guitar department of the Manhattan School of Music, delivered a crisply articulated, sweetly singing account of the guitar line and made its difficult stretches seem almost easy.”
Allan Kozinn, Portland Press Herald, Portland, ME
“Top guitar and cello virtuosos combine for a magical outing…Leisner and Bailey are remarkably sympathetic duet partners, deftly switching back and forth between lead and support lines, always propelling the music forward…Most interesting, perhaps, is Leisner’s evocative Twilight Streams, which over the course of five short movements, ranges from the fluid, anticipatory build of ‘Empty Dark’ to the quick, jagged shards of ‘Full Dark’, the meditative ‘Empty Light’ (dominated by guitar harmonics and breath-like cello), propulsive ‘Full Light’, and searching/questioning ‘Adrift at Twilight’…All in all, this is a stunningly successful collaboration in every way.”
Blair Jackson, Classical Guitar
“Leisner’s technical command, emotional intensity, and intellectual ability make him an ideal interpreter of this music [Ginastera Sonata]…The spectacular Finale was a breathless celebration of rhythms of the Argentine pampas showcasing Leisner’s rhythmic and textural control…Leisner’s performance made the work’s classical proportions utterly clear, without neglecting the Sturm und Drang of the Haydn paraphrases [Matiegka/Haydn Sonata]…Leisner is an absolute master of this material and his performance made pieces I have heard countless times spring to life [Villa-Lobos Etudes].”
Scott Cmiel, San Francisco Classical Voice
“This is a significant and substantial release [Facts of Life CD]…As for the Bach, this extended slick of premium baroque demands copious reserves of skill, stamina, and style, and Leisner shows all three in abundance.”
Paul Fowles, Classical Guitar
“I usually enjoy anything David Leisner presents, and this [Arpeggione CD] is no exception. Indeed, as a program, it’s one of the most satisfying I’ve heard in quite a while…Guitar and cello recordings are few and far between, and this is one of the best.”
Ken Keaton, American Record Guide
“I first heard Leisner play this piece [Ginastera Sonata] 19 years ago at Weill Recital Hall in New York. In my review, I described his performance then as “controlled abandon.” This evening, he somehow managed to play with both more control and more abandon. Leisner used the stately “Esordio” to set up the “Scherzo”, where fast scale passages and dense chords found themselves in the company of numerous guitar effects. In lesser hands, the movement could sound gimmicky, but Leisner integrated all of the elements seamlessly. He played the contrasting “Canto” freely and expressively, as if he was creating it in the moment. Leisner’s treatment of the “Finale,” an energetic rondo, was a model of how to handle phrasing and dynamics in a rhythmically active movement.”
Jim Tosone, Classical Guitar
“This CD brings again to the attention of the guitar public a great personality of our little world, David Leisner. David never fails to make choices of great musical value, either when presenting pieces resulting from his own imagination as a composer or when – as in this case – he exploits his own culture and musical personality to render the work of others in the best possible way. If these “others” are … genius composers like Del Tredici, the result is literally explosive.”
Francesco Biraghi, il Fronimo
“This CD [Arpeggione] is not just for classical listeners—anyone who loves beauty and wants more of it in his or her life should buy this recording.”
John Marks, The Tannhäuser Gate
“This piece [David Del Tredici’s Facts of Life] should be able to claim a permanent place in the solo guitar repertoire. The memorably melody of the first movement harks back to earlier eras while still retaining an individual sound. The second movement is a fugue inspired by Bach, and Leisner directs the listener through it well by bringing out all the various voices. There is also a sorrowing aria touched off by a break-up, and the suite ends with a gritty flamenco complete with percussion, which the guitarist makes by drumming on the guitar. It’s music you will want to hear over and over…Leisner’s performance throughout the disc is full of finesse.”
Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY
“When Leisner plucked the strings, his fingers dancing over the frets with balletic grace, he sucked you into another dimension. The man has some mad skills, but not the rock-star-going-on-a-solo-tangent type of skills. He plays with the intuition of a man who is one with his instrument.”
Cathalena Burch, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, AZ
“Leisner handles all the difficulties gracefully and all the melodies beautifully. The playing is beyond superb…Leisner’s transcription of the Ciaccona is sublime, and he plays it with reverence for its structure and depth. Most highly recommended, and a candidate for a ‘Record to Die For.'”
John Marks, Stereophile
“One of the most illustrious American guitarists…His all-Britten program last autumn in the same hall with tenor Rufus Müller, won my vote as the most moving and memorable recital of the season. These artists drenched us in the glorious fruits of tenderness, loss and sorrow intrinsic to this music. Their Sally Gardens encore was beyond the sphere of comparison. Their efforts did not have the intimacy of an embrace, nor a handshake; but a hand on the shoulder with a gaze into each others’ eyes as if into a mirror.”
Eduard Laurel, Crack Critic
“David Leisner is among the finest guitarists currently performing- and, given that the level of playing has never been higher, that means among the finest of all time. He has a probing intellect, finding insights in music that most others miss, and delivering them with a virtuoso technique. He is a musician first, a guitarist second, and that is a rare quality.”
Ken Keaton, American Record Guide
“Mr. Leisner offered a deeply expressive interpretation of the enigmatic, haunting variations [Britten Nocturnal]…Mr. Leisner and Mr. Mueller proved exemplary, characterful collaborators throughout, the guitarist’s playing rich and nuanced and the tenor’s voice expressive.”
Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times
“[Favorites] may well be one of the top guitar discs for an Earth Time Capsule.”
Roger Cope, CVNC Online Arts Journal
“David Leisner romped with masterly glee through the wild-gaucho convolutions of Ginastera’s Guitar Sonata”
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, New York, NY
“Bach’s Lute Suite in A minor brought Leisner’s most potent performance of the evening. Bach’s refined introspection fits Leisner’s consummate musicianship like a glove. The quiet beauty of the prelude was followed by a wonderfully transparent fugue. Intricate detailing and clarity of line marked the gravely eloquent Sarabande…Springy, dance-like vivacity brought the Gigue and Double to a sparkling conclusion…Leisner proved remarkably effective in [Paganini’s Grand Sonata in A Major] this flamboyant showpiece. He shaped the instrumental bel canto of the first two movements with stylish grace and summoned speed, fervor and charm for the crucial Andantino and Variations.”
South Florida Classical Review, Miami, Florida
“David Leisner is an amazing musician and prize of our culture. His taste, poise and passion bring out the best in the music he plays; attributes reflected in his compositions.”
Boston Musical Intelligencer, Boston, MA
“One of the finest classical guitarists in the world…a true musical artist.”
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
“We got to hear the whole range, from musical caresses to hard, metallic, emotional outbursts. All the time held together by the joy of music-making and solid musicality and emotion. It does not happen often, but on a night like this, it is hard to find enough superlatives…I will treasure this musical moment for ever.”
New Lidköping Times, Sweden
“He moved easily through the brisk passagework and sharp accenting of the Ginastera Sonata, and his approach to the work’s many coloristic effects was remarkably fluent and free-spirited. In more lyrical music . . . he played with an affecting gracefulness and warmth.”
The New York Times
“Throughout the recital, Leisner played with heightened beauty of tone, flexibility of phrasing and detailing of nuance. He drew numerous colors from the instrument and spanned a spectrum of dynamics and atmospheres. His playing was intimate yet full of character . . . It was an exhilarating display of artistic intelligence and control.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Make no mistake, David Leisner is a conspicuously gifted guitarist . . . Leisner brought a startling poise and lucid grace to Bach Lute Suite No. 1, and neatly defined the balance of rawness and sophistication in Four Etudes of Heitor Villa-Lobos . . . ”
The Los Angeles Times
“He was never just a guitarist but a lively, inquiring, original musical personality that had found its voice in the guitar; that mind was everywhere evident Sunday night, and there was some very fancy guitar playing on display, too.”
The Boston Globe
“To his brilliant technique, his solid sense of rhythm, his fertile musical imagination, David Leisner added the pleasure of a program that was as exceptional as his playing.”
Le Soleil, Quebec City
“The Piazzolla [Double Concerto for Guitar, Bandoneon and Strings] profited from two absolutely splendid soloists. David Leisner played the guitar, Peter Soave the bandoneon. Their parts are elaborate and difficult and were made to breathe with great naturalness.”
The New York Times
“A totally unselfconscious virtuoso who gently and undemonstratively led the listener into thrilling and deep emotional spaces.”
“ONE OF THE TOP 10 CD’S OF 2000…Leisner clearly has the inside track with the Etudes, 5 Preludes, Choros No 1 and Suite Populaire Bresilienne, understanding them from the perspective of both a composer and a performer of utmost taste and control. The performances of the more familiar works squash the competition, while the Etudes prove enduring, listenable fare. No serious classical guitar fan should be without this disc.”
“Scampering literally from one end of the guitar to the other, Leisner became playful, soulful, songful, as the music demanded.”
“One of the most respected and versatile figures on the guitar scene, Leisner added an element of intense passion to the evening…How could one fail to be moved by his commitment and his artistry?”
“The evening began with last year’s favorite, American guitar ace David Leisner. He played the Bach Chaconne in a way that merged emotion and intellect into an alloy that can best be described as high art…With guitarists of David Leisner’s caliber, bravura is so self-evident that one can concentrate entirely on the music, which allows for the potential for fresh and truly great music experiences.”
New Lidköping Times, Sweden
“Leisner projects a strong personality and great musicianship . . . His overall shaping of phrases, warm tone quality, pacing and rhythmic drive are unquestionable.”
American Record Guide
“Leisner’s phrasing has a natural, breathing quality that is free of the bombast that can often weigh down this music [Bach]. This is demonstrated by the way he uses ornaments to propel the melody forward. The result is a recording that reveals the music’s intimate joy.”
“Leisner’s superb technical mastery is complemented by a generosity of spirit and amplitude of phrasing that brings a unique humanity to this familiar music. Hard to explain, but it makes you feel as if you were meeting Bach, not just his music. Maybe it’s Leisner you’re meeting, but the effect is special indeed.”
Southern California Early Music Society Magazine
“One of the more interesting guitarists on the United States scene and an esteemed interpreter of the Bach repertoire…Leisner’s performances are very well thought-out and are characterized by a great attention to sound. The phrasing is beautifully shaped and within it, a polyphonic and phraseological discourse flows with great naturalness. On the repeats, the guitarist lets go with numerous ornaments, executed with taste and a superb command of the instrument.”
“David Leisner is the most painterly of classical guitarists, a tone-colorist of the first water.”
San Antonio Express-News
“Leisner is one of the guitar world’s finest advocates . . . Leisner’s account [of the Bach Cello Suite No. 3] was heavenly.”
Arizona Daily Star
“David Leisner is a triple-threat performer”
The New York Times
San Francisco Classical Voice
by Scott Cmiel, October 4, 2016
The American guitarist and composer David Leisner has greatly enriched the guitar repertoire during a long and fruitful career. He has championed important but forgotten 19th-century repertoire; he has commissioned composers such as David Del Tredici, Ned Rorem, and Osvaldo Golijov; and he has composed his own, compelling works. On Saturday, at Le Petit Trianon Theater in San Jose, the South Bay Guitar Society presented Leisner in a substantial program that highlighted his many strengths.
The first half’s highlight was Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata, Op. 47, a masterpiece which combines a sure sense of Latin American roots with mastery of 20th-century European musical technique. Leisner’s technical command, emotional intensity, and intellectual ability make him an ideal interpreter of this music.
In a witty and informative spoken introduction, he told of a meeting with Ginastera, which presumably encouraged the extraordinary energy the guitarist projected in the large chords of Esordio, the opening movement. In the second movement, a witty scherzo, Leisner highlighted extreme contrasts of texture and volume, single note and chordal glissandi, and Bartokian pizzicati. He was a total master of the relentlessly kaleidoscopic writing, which he occasionally interrupted with free passages out of tempo, the last of which he rudely dismissed, as if to remind us that this is, after all, a scherzo. The Canto was a complete contrast, played as a passionate love song, chromatic and improvisatory. The spectacular Finale was a breathless celebration of rhythms of the Argentine pampas showcasing Leisner’s rhythmic and textural control.
Johann Mertz (1806-1856), one of Leisner’s rediscoveries, was one of the leading guitar virtuosos of the 19th Century, and he found inspiration in the piano works of Schubert, Chopin and others. Elegy begins in ruminative stillness, slowly picks up intensity and momentum and finally leads to a deeply felt, cantabile melody in the style of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words. Leisner’s mastery of the Romantic style included a dramatic use of rubato and striking use of coloristic effects.
Wenzeslaus Matiegka (1773-1830) was a Czech composer and guitarist active in Vienna. His Sonata, Op. 23 opens with close paraphrases of Haydn’s Sonata in B Minor (Hob. XVI:32) in the first and second movements. The opening Presto featured an obsessively pounding theme and weird, unsettling silences. A long-spanned minuet in B major provided harmonic balm, and the rondo finale, Matiegka’s own, original composition, offered a gentle conclusion. Leisner’s performance made the work’s classical proportions utterly clear, without neglecting the Sturm und Drang of the Haydn paraphrases.
After intermission Leisner performed his own composition, Labyrinths which celebrated the mesmerizing, infinite patterns found in nature when carefully attending to wind, water, rocks, trees, light, and shadow. The five movements, Shimmer, Shadow, Shiver, Shatter, and Shelter translated these natural effects into musical patterns that slowly evolved and created musical gestures alternately mysterious, playful, and surprising, but always delightful.
The great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ 12 Etudes (1928) have long been staple guitar repertory, but the most commonly used edition, published by Editions Max Eschig in 1953, have more recently been supplanted by the discovery of an autograph manuscript from 1928 that contains many details not included in the published edition. Leisner is an absolute master of this material and his performance made pieces I have heard countless times spring to life. The opening of Etude 8 was strikingly transformed by glissandi and triplet rhythms to create a jazz-inflected effect and Etudes 10 and 11 were enhanced with significant added material.
The South Bay Guitar Society offers Prelude Performances by accomplished local students before the main recital. Leisner was preceded by Nicholas Padmanabhan, a 15-year-old student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Pre-College, who gave an impressive account of both the Prelude from Suite BWV 995 by J. S. Bach and Three Pieces for Guitar by Mexican composer Carlos Chavez.
The enthusiastic audience was rewarded by David Leisner’s jazzy encore performance of Felicidade by Antonio Carlos Jobim.
il Fronimo magazine, Italy
by Francesco Biraghi, April 2016
This CD is an important recording event because it contains the result of a close collaboration between an important composer David Del Tredici, an American of Italian descent, and David Leisner, splendid interpreter on the guitar, and himself a valuable composer. I call the collaboration “important” because Leisner originally commissioned Del Tredici to compose a ten minute work, but the artistic collaboration between the two has proved so successful that in the end, the total duration of the work – at least in this recording by Leisner – exceeds 34 minutes, making Facts of Life one of the longest pieces commissioned from a non-guitarist composer by a guitarist in recent years. To put this piece into context, it is divided into four movements that include two Fugues (born a twelve-tone composer, Del Tredici has evolved his own writing towards a neo-Romantic language and is a master of counterpoint). Leisner, in an interview by Joshua Bavaro for “Soundboard” magazine of the Guitar Foundation of America, described how the collaboration between the two artists developed during 2009. The date at the end of the print edition coincides with the last day of the year, December 31, 2009, while the first performance occurred a few months later, April 29, 2010, in New York (the piece was then published by Boosey & Hawkes in 2010). Leisner guided Del Tredici to write for guitar by transcribing one of his recent piano works which paved the way for Del Tredici to develop familiarity with the art of guitar composition. This piece is the first movement of the work, First Things First, which could be defined as a first sonata movement, given the presence of two main themes and an extensive recapitulation. Leisner then showed David Del Tredici the Fugue from Suite BWV 997 by Bach, and the result can be appreciated in the second movement of Facts of Life, with the indicative title, Fugue, My Fetish, in which an admirable three voice Fugue is developed. Continuing the exploration of the guitar’s resources, we find the third movement, Farewell, R.W., a heartfelt melodic passage describing an emotional farewell, and then the fourth, Flamenco Forever. This movement is a witty challenge to Leisner. Knowing that Leisner is not a fan of Spanish cliché, Del Tredici transforms flamenco vocabulary, such as tamboras and rasgueados, into “another” language. Throughout, this fourth movement claims its autonomy from unwelcome Iberian cliché, landing on a second and even more audacious Fugue. It should not be hard to perceive, between the lines of what I have written so far, my sincere and deep admiration for Facts of Life, a terrific piece, solidly structured as only a few other pieces of the contemporary repertoire, extraordinarily rich in music. The review of Leisner’s CD therefore give us the opportunity to express our admiration for this “phenomenon” of contemporary composition. And only an interpreter of lively intelligence and uncommon sensitivity could have climbed such a steep and difficult mountain. We must say that Leisner certainly proves to be the right man for the right piece. The New York-based guitarist solves the impenetrable writing of Del Tredici, overcoming the treacherous technical barriers, sometimes with difficulty, but always with great and clear intention. Leisner shines in his ability to bring out the contrapuntal polyphony and the beautiful cantabile in the frequent melodic sections of the work. Listening is always fulfilling and lively, even in the most complicated passages, those in which Del Tredici dwells in stylistic exercises – like the last movement – which could lead to some discomfort in the listener, a risk that is readily averted through some surprising dramatic interventions such as the vocal exclamations by the guitarist at the end of the fourth movement. If only for its first thirty-five minutes, this CD is not to be missed.
The CD continues with the Suite BWV 997 by Bach in Leisner’s transcription. The piece is very well known in the guitar world, and needs no special introduction. The listener is advised to pay close attention to the idiosyncrasies of Leisner’s version of this challenging work. Leisner, for example, does not abound in the use of left hand slurs. He opts for a harpsichordist reading of the piece instead of a violinistic one. Even the transposition of some phrases to the octave above, especially in the end of movements, seems to follow a keyboard’s inspiration. Tempos are conducted with great calm and without conceding anything to pyrotechnics, an interpretative intention with which we widely agree. The heart of the Suite is the long Da Capo Fugue that Leisner used, as mentioned before, to introduce Del Tredici to contrapuntal writing for the guitar. Here, too, the clarity of voices is the trait that most characterizes the interpretation of the American guitarist, equally convincing in the lyrical reading of the splendid Sarabande.
Closing the program is a nice surprise entitled Fish Tale, a delightful work of ten minutes for flute and guitar (featuring the talented flutist Tara O’Connor). The author Osvaldo Golijov, renowned Argentine composer now fifty-five, is the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe (as his surname reveals) and now lives near Boston. The piece (in its world premiere recording) is conversational and smiling, written in a language of quasi-French twentieth century, revised and corrected through the lens of Klezmer music. The guitar part plays an equal role to the flute, and Leisner accomplishes it with skill and assurance, accompanying the melodies of his extremely musical partner.
This CD brings again to the attention of the guitar public a great personality of our little world, David Leisner. David never fails to make choices of great musical value, either when presenting pieces resulting from his own imagination as a composer or when – as in this case – he exploits his own culture and musical personality to render the work of others in the best possible way. If these “others” are … genius composers like Del Tredici, the result is literally explosive.
An Exploration of the Curious Case of Benjamin Britten David Leisner and Rufus Müller at Symphony Space
New York Times
by Vivien Schweitzer, October 22, 2013
Benjamin Britten, whose centennial is being celebrated this year, wrote some of his finest works for the tenor Peter Pears, his lifelong partner and muse. Britten also composed works for friends like the guitarist Julian Bream, who met the couple at a party during the 1952 Aldeburgh Festival.
Pears and Mr. Bream, now 80, read through some lute songs at that party, the beginning of an important musical collaboration. The duo recorded and performed internationally together for many years.
On Friday evening at Symphony Space, in a concert that featured Britten’s complete oeuvre for tenor and guitar, the guitarist David Leisner and the tenor Rufus Müller began the program with the simple “I Will Give My Love an Apple.” That excerpt and others from Britten’s “Folk Song Arrangements” evoke his harmonically ambivalent language.
Mr. Müller lurched drunkenly during his lively rendition of “The Soldier and the Sailor,” which preceded the more subdued “Bonny at Morn.” After the folk songs came a beautifully rendered, intimate performance of the Second Lute Song of the Earl of Essex, an arrangement of a piece from Britten’s opera “Gloriana.”
Britten, who hadn’t written for the guitar before meeting Mr. Bream, wrote “Nocturnal After John Dowland” in 1963, based on the theme from Dowland’s lute song “Come, Heavy Sleep.” Mr. Leisner offered a deeply expressive interpretation of the enigmatic, haunting variations.
Mr. Leisner and Mr. Müller proved exemplary, characterful collaborators throughout, the guitarist’s playing rich and nuanced and the tenor’s voice expressive and sounding more confident and committed as the program progressed.
Britten visited the Far East in 1956 and the following year set to music Arthur Waley’s translations of ancient Chinese poems, texts that explore typical Brittenesque themes of innocence, loss and regret. The six pieces from the cycle, called Songs From the Chinese, included the enigmatic “Old Lute” and the short, haunting “Depression,” which concludes with the words “though my limbs are old, my heart is older yet,” plaintively sung by Mr. Müller.
As an encore, which proved a highlight of the evening, the duo offered a beautiful rendition of “Down by the Salley Gardens,” another of Britten’s folk song arrangements.
Suonare magazine, Italy
by Angelo Gilardino, November 2009
“The guitar, Spanish? Certainly, the fiery dramatis personae of flamenco is. But the guitar, forever at the service of “cultured” music, is no more Spanish than it is Italian or Viennese. Indeed, Imperial Vienna, at first shaken up by the Napoleonic hurricane, then put back in order during the Restoration, was, at the beginnings of the 1800’s, and for at least thirty years, one of the busiest and most productive centers of guitar activity from any period. Here, the guitar was fashionable for many reasons – not all of them musical. The guitar enjoyed a wave of immense popularity among the aristocracy and the upper classes. Riding this wave, the extraordinarily gifted composer and virtuoso Mauro Giuliani was able to achieve, maintain and, in the end, abandon a degree of success unknown to any guitarist who preceded him, (nor any who followed him for at least another hundred years).
Giuliani, when he reached Vienna in 1806, found himself preaching to the choir: the guitar was already an object of endearment and experimentation in the Imperial capital, beloved not just by amateurs but also by groups of musicians, who played well and who knew how to compose in an idiomatic way for six strings. Two of these musicians have come down to us, but not for their achievements with the guitar: Anton Diabelli and Wenzeslaus Matiegka. The latter achieved his musical laurels around 1920, when it was discovered that the quartet for flute, viola, cello and guitar of Franz Schubert was in
reality a trio by Matiegka to which Schubert had added only the cello part. Since then, slowly but surely, the music of Matiegka has been brought forth from obscurity, thanks mainly to the efforts of guitarists. Scholars like Francesco Gorio, Massimo Agostinelli and Giovanni Podera have devoted themselves to the publication of his works for and with guitar, and now we have this CD dedicated entirely to his music for solo guitar. Who was Matiegka? He was born in Chotzen, in Bohemia, in 1773 and was raised in a musical family that tried to dissuade him from a career in music, encouraging him to
study Law instead. But Wenzeslaus wanted none of this and became a musician just the same; he was a pianist, violinist and choral director. In 1800, he moved to Vienna. In this supremely musical capital, he was irresistibly drawn to the guitar and began to compose for the instrument. Unfortunately for him, one year after the publication of his first work
for guitar, Vienna saw the arrival of Giuliani who, besides being a brilliant and prolific composer, was also a dazzlingly gifted virtuoso and – according to one written account of the time – as youthfully handsome as Antinous. Matiegka, on the other hand, was the withdrawn and shy type, and not attractive in the least. He was no match for Giuliani, and had the wisdom not to compete. He eked out a very modest living by giving lessons, and died of tuberculosis in 1830 in the direst poverty.
He left behind an abundant catalogue of solo guitar music and chamber music with guitar, rich in sonatas and variations. The New York guitarist David Leisner has oriented his selections toward these forms and demonstrates a special affinity for Viennese guitar music. Years ago, in fact, Leisner recorded an admirable anthology of Johann Kaspar Mertz and Mauro Giuliani. Leisner’s ongoing research has strengthened his conviction that Matiegka is the composer of greatest merit amongst those contemporaries who dedicated themselves to guitar music. Undoubtedly, Leisner’s advocacy and high esteem for these pieces has shaped his interpretations of them, performed here with the scruples of a studious performer who measures each note with precision, but also conveys the sense of freshness and enthusiasm of a performer who loves what he is playing and does so without restraint.
The CD (Azica Records ACD 71249) comprises the Grand Sonata no. 1, boasting a tautly- structured first movement and a moving Andante molto; the second movement of the Grand Sonata no. 2, Andante con espressione; the fresh and richly embellished Variations on a Tyrolean Song op. 27; the Sonata in C Minor, op. 31 no. 6 – less immense and powerful than the Sonata no. 1, but perhaps more incisive in its thematic ideas and concise development; three Minuets taken from the op. 15 and op. 20 and, finally, an academic, but by no means dry, Study in C Major.
What sets David Leisner apart is the refinement of his phrasing, which he imbues with clear, convincing and original intentions. He does so in an elegant manner, as if everything he does were not the result of his own interpretive imagination (which, in fact, it is) but rather, dictated by the Canon; in reality, he creates as he plays and masquerades these discoveries as stylistic precepts. His playing is authoritative, without trying to appear so. And he succeeds marvelously, taking us through this entire recording without a single dull moment.”
New Lidköping Times, Sweden
by Bo Borg, 5 August 5, 2009
“The evening began with last year’s favorite, American guitar ace David Leisner. He played the Bach Chaconne in a way that merged emotion and intellect into an alloy that can best be described as high art.
Perhaps the greatest reward of his concert on Monday evening was when he introduced the music of the Czech (and incomprehensibly unknown) composer Wenzeslaus Matiegka (1773-1830). Rarely does one hear more rhythmically varied and beautiful music. He was a contemporary of Beethoven, who, as far as I know, did not write any guitar music, but had he done so, it might have sounded something like this music by Matiegka. This one gets the highest marks.
It is lovely to hear virtuosi who are so talented that they never have to resort to a display of only ostentatious/showcase playing. With guitarists of David Leisner’s caliber, bravura is so self-evident that one can concentrate entirely on the music, which allows for the potential for fresh and truly great music experiences.
David Leisner also played music of a composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, whose music “separates the men from the boys”. Leisner showed once again that he is a musician that can make the impossible sound completely natural and “close”. This can only be achieved by the greats.”
Classical guitarist shines in orchestra concert
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
by George C. Ford, November 24, 2008
“David Leisner on Saturday night showed why he is considered one of the finest classical guitarists in the world.
Leisner joined Maestro Timothy Hankewich and the Cedar Rapids Symphony/ Orchestra Iowa in a memorable performance of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”. Displaying a superb command of his instrument, Leisner played with a vibrancy and flair that was a perfect complement to the symphony. His musical dialogue with the violins and cellos was crisp and clean. The audience in Sinclair Auditorium responded with generous applause, showing their appreciation for a true musical artist.”
Star guitarist in the center
New Lidköping Times, Lidköping, Sweden
by Bo Borg, August 8, 2008
“After the concert, overwhelmed, one wondered: How many instruments is a guitar in the hands of a master? How many guitarists is David Leisner? We got to hear the whole range, from musical caresses to hard, metallic, emotional outbursts. All the time held together by the joy of music-making and solid musicality and emotion. It does not happen often, but on a night like this, it is hard to find enough superlatives.
One highlight followed the other. He performed, for example, together with Martin Fogel, Nagoya Guitars by Steve Reich. They showed the most poetic side of mathematics, and that minimalism correctly used can be an emotional maximalism. I will treasure this musical moment for ever.
He played music by J S Bach, David Leisner, Scott Joplin, and Heitor Villa-Lobos as if they were each his speciality…The musicality was so striking that one almost forgot about the virtuosity…His own composition, Labyrinths, was a great experience, a complex work that conveyed strong emotions and musical revelations on the first hearing.”
Guitarist Plays Old And New With Mastery
Hartford Courant, CT
By Phil Salathe, November 20, 2006
“During his concert Saturday night at Central Connecticut State University’s Torp Theater, classical guitarist David Leisner referred to the Hartford area as his “old stomping grounds.” Performing under the auspices of the Connecticut Classical Guitar Society, with an eclectic program that mixed the old with the new, Leisner played with the confidence and mastery of a man entirely at home.
Leisner began with Wenzeslaus Matiegka’s Sonata in B minor, dating from the early 19th century. Even in a room full of guitarists, one suspects there were few who had heard of the composer, let alone of this particular piece; as there were no program notes, we in the audience were forced to listen to the music “as is,” without preconceptions. There’s an entire cottage industry devoted to obscure composers from the 18th and 19th centuries and their works, all too many of which turn out to be bland, banal, or otherwise undistinguished. Matiegka’s Sonata, however, is not one of these. A piece in many ways reminiscent of early- to mid-period Beethoven, it was elegantly written and classically proportioned, but with a rhythmic and dramatic invention that, like Beethoven, takes pleasure in confounding our expectations. Leisner’s enthusiasm for this music is evident, and his interpretation was fluid and assured, with a rich variety of articulations and colors.
Next was J.S. Bach’s “Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro,”a piece originally written for lute and arranged by Leisner for guitar. Some performers seem to labor under the misconception that, once its technical difficulties are overcome, a Bach piece will somehow magically “play itself,” as in a music box. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, and Leisner brings a welcome interpretative subtlety to this music.
A pair of Scott Joplin pieces concluded the first half. Leisner’s skillful adaptation of the famous “Maple Leaf Rag” proved that one can adapt Joplin for the guitar without sacrificing any of its counterpoint or rhythmic drive.
The bulk of the second half was devoted to Leisner’s “Nel Mezzo” – “In the Middle” – a solo guitar sonata of formidable scope featured on his recent CD, “Self-Portrait” (Azica Records). Taking its title from the opening lines of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the piece is frankly autobiographical, written during a self-described mid-life crisis, after overcoming a debilitating hand injury that nearly ended his career. Leisner refers to “Nel Mezzo” as being fundamentally tonal, but this description is perhaps deceptive.
One is reminded more of a composer such as Benjamin Britten, whose music is deeply informed by the principles of tonal music, but not necessarily governed by its grammar. It’s a well-constructed and darkly humorous work in which the diminished seventh chord – built, of course, from “devilish” tritones – figures prominently. Its stark contrasts and obsessive character also bring to mind another guitarist-composer, Hector Berlioz. This resemblance was particularly noticeable in the third movement, “No!”, which juxtaposed violent, almost frantic strumming with passages of exquisitely delicate artificial harmonics.”
By Tim Panting, June 2005
“A familiar face to many CG readers, David Leisner’s smiling visage seems to show a man full of vitality and oozing reassuring calmness; a quality that is second nature to great communicators. But his story, which is going to be hard to disassociate from, having recovered through unbelievable determination and self belief from the crippling hand injury, focal dystonia. However, it appears to have been a full recovery through the rehabilitation and reserach into the physical aspects of technique that Leisner has arrived at. No one in the audience would have had the faintest inkling of this previous handicap, for Leisner is an immaculate player.
The first item, uniquely being aired by Leisner, I think, was the Grand Sonata No. 1 by Wenzeslaus Matiegka, a name only known to me through some menuets published half a century ago. The story attached to Leisner getting hold of the piece is interesting. After discovering a manuscript, carefully handwritten by a certain Stephen Pratten, and assuming it was he who had written the music, it was while in Australia that after playing the piece in concert he was drawn to the fact that this was indeed by the Bohemian composer Matiegka and that Pratten had merely copied it out, from a source unknown.
Anyway, Leisner has made the piece his own and lovingly furnishes the industrious construction with a deep understanding. Harmonically and rhythmically it does not leap out, but the ideas are most succinct and Leisner really does bring a slice of 19th century salonistica to life; especially in the charming étouffée-embellished cadenza.
Bach’s Prelude Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 one of his most appealing works currently performed on the classical guitar, was played with, again, a great sense of form. Leisner does not rush the lines and allows the tension to build throughout. Two sparkling pieces from Mertz, Sehnsucht and Tarantelle ended the first half; as Leisner pointed out that Mertz’s virtuosity was matched by his compositional gifts and that his music outshines his great predecessor Sor, understood to be the greatest 19th century [guitar] composer.
After the break Leisner played one of his own compositions, Nel Mezzo ; a paean to the mid-life crisis, to put it rather crassly. This three-movement work was, as one might imagine, quite restless and searching. With a furious ‘toccata of chords’ and a rondo with quotes from the lullaby ‘Hush-a-bye’, it was an unsettling work, which may be a theme in progress!
After the Valsa-Chôro from Villa-Lobos’s Suite Populaire Brésilienne , Leisner played two delightful Scott Joplin rags, The Chrysanthemum and the Maple Leaf Rag ; his own arrangements, intricate but highly functional, lovely stuff.
An encore of Villa-Lobos’s Etude No. 7 rounded off yet another fine concert in the West, organised by Chris Gilbert and Tim Royal from the Spanish Guitar Centre, Bristol.”
Fully recovered from hand injury, his performance was full of warmth
Musashino Civic Recital Hall, Tokyo
By Hajime Matsuzaka, September 2004
“David Leisner is an American guitarist who is appearing in Japan for the first time. Born in Los Angeles in 1953, Leisner studied with John Duarte, David Starobin and Angelo Gilardino. He won 2nd Prize in the Toronto International Guitar Competition in 1975 and was an award winner in the Geneva International Guitar Competition in 1981. During the 1980’s, he had a hand injury and couldn’t play for 12 years, but he is now totally recovered. (This concert was proof of that). In addition to his performance career, Leisner has an important career as composer and teacher. He teaches at the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. (Soichi Muraji is one of his students).
Tonight’s program began with two Schubert Lieder, Ständchen from Schwanengesang and Die Post from Winterreise, arranged for the guitar by Mertz. Leisner’s performance had a wonderful singing quality, vividly expressing Schubert’s Romanticism. The clear and beautiful tone produced by the American-made John Gilbert guitar was also impressive.
His own work, Four Pieces (Prelude, Episode, Ritual and Dance), was originally written for Benjamin Verdery, who came to Japan in 2001. These imaginative pieces had elements of popular music, such as jazz and ragtime. They show off Leisner’s great composition skills, and the performance was in perfect control, in part because they were the player’s own works. Although Matiegka, who composed the following Grand Sonata No. 1, is known as the composer of the original version of Schubert’s Guitar Quartet, D96, his works are seldom played today. Therefore it was significant that Leisner chose to program this piece. The 3-movement work was played in perfect Classical style.
In the Chaconne after intermission, while one section may have been a bit heavily interpreted to this writer’s taste, Leisner’s sense of structure was firm and his straightforward approach to Bach’s music was admirable. Ginastera’s Sonata, op. 47, was appropriate for the program’s finale, and was played vividly and beautifully, with spontaneous phrasing and a wide range of dynamics.
Do the very natural and logical finger movements in general come from overcoming his hand problems? This performer has no shortage of technique, yet never sounds mechanical, and at the same time has indescribable warmth and a profound sensitivity. This depth was also apparent in the elaborate analysis contained in the program notes. However, this was no academic presentation, and the performance fully reflected the player’s personality.
Leisner played two encores by Villa-Lobos, Etude #12 and Prelude #3.”
Eileen Joyce Studio, Perth, Australia
By Neville Cohn, , May 2004
“American classical guitarist David Leisner had a career rich in promise both as recitalist and concerto soloist until an arm, disabled by illness, put paid to his concert-giving for more than a decade. But sheer grit and literally years of concentrated effort to re-learn and re-master the guitar have paid off in the most substantial way.
Leisner’s renewed command of the instrument was glowingly evident at his recital for the Classical Guitar Society of W.A.. In this sense, Leisner is yet another in a succession of remarkable musicians who have triumphed over seemingly insurmountable disability. (Another guitarist, Django Reinhardt, for instance, had his left hand badly burnt but, deformed fingers notwithstanding, evolved into a superb interpreter in the jazz idiom.)
Leisner’s program was no easy ride. No soft option for this guitarist. No. This was one of the toughest assignments imaginable for even the most impressively equipped of musicians. And Leisner came through with pennants proudly flying.
An account of Bach’s famous Chaconne in D minor was peak of the evening. Originally conceived for unaccompanied violin, it is one of western music’s most glorious achievements, an epic that has been transcribed for a number of different instruments. Larry Adler, for instance, played it on the harmonica – and Brahms made a piano arrangement of it to be played by the left hand only. Leisner has made his own transcription for the guitar – and what an awesome offering it was, with a command of the instrument so complete and seemingly effortless that the instrument seemed more an extension of Leisner’s being than an inanimate construction of wood, varnish, glue and metal strings.
Certainly, his clarity of exposition, an ability to focus on the Chaconne’s myriad intricacies without losing sight of the work’s grand design – and the range of tonal colourings drawn upon – made this one of the most uplifting guitar offerings I’ve experienced in years. It’s a lengthy work, one of Bach’s noblest offerings, and the audience paid Leisner the honour of listening to him in absolute silence.
Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata for guitar occupies a very different mood and sound world. Here, Leisner could barely be faulted, adapting to the work’s
stylistic subtleties as if to the manner born, expounding its often villainously demanding musical argument with an irrefutable logic and often-blazing virtuosity. Here, as throughout, Leisner played from memory.
There was also a guitar sonata of uncertain provenance. It is believed to be by one Stephen Pratten (1799 – 1845) but music historians are doubtless yet to spill oceans of ink debating its exact origins. Whoever wrote it, it’s an appealing, charm-laden work, often sounding uncannily like the guitar equivalent of some piano sonatina by Diabelli or Dussek. It deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.
A fascinating program included arrangements of two Schubert lieder from Schwanengesang, the ubiquitous Standchen and Die Post, the haunting, bittersweet strains of the former a pleasing curtain raiser. The galloping, six-in-a-bar measures of Die Post, though, were less consistently convincing; not all the repeated notes ‘spoke’.
And of a suite of four pieces by Leisner himself, Ritual was particularly pleasing, coming across as a slowly unfolding extemporisation which gradually grew in intensity. Episode, too, made interesting listening, with its nervy quality, its syncopated rhythms and intricate work high on the fingerboard. All in all, this was one of the most satisfying recitals so far this year, presented in near-peerless fashion by a grandee of the guitar.
Clever programme showcases American guitarist
The Dominion Post, Wellington, New Zealand
By John Button, April 23, 2004
“David Leisner is an American guitarist, giving master classes in Australia and New Zealand, and, as this concert graphically illustrated, he is a player of the front rank. The programme he played here was very carefully, and rather cleverly, chosen. The first half downplayed the more spectacular effects possible on the classical guitar, keeping the powder dry, then, with the second half, we heard the flowering of superb musicianship and a stunning mastery of all the various effects possible on what many think of as a rather limited instrument.
Two Schubert songs, in arangements by 19th century musician J.K. Mertz, were not completely convincing without a voice, but Leisner’s own Four Pieces displayed a quiet skill. A surprise packet was a sonata by completely unknown Englishman Stephen Pratten, composed about 1820. A highly competent piece, with, after a solid first movement, a fine andante and a spirited rondo finale.
The second half opened with Leisner’s arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin. It was superb Bach playing, playing of music that becomes extremely difficult as it progresses.
The 1976 Sonata by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera is, as Leisner suggested, a great work. Its four movements are a model of conciseness, yet within them there is a multitude of colours, and a range of moods, that are almost visual. It requires an absolute mastery of the instrument, and that is what it received here, highlighting a fine, satisfying recital.”
Royal Academy of Music, London
By Gerald Garcia, May 2003
“The irony of David Leisner’s (somewhat paranoid) New York Times review, describing him as a “triple-threat performer” could not have been more poignant during the time that he was cruelly stricken by focal dystonia, when he was unable to play for 12 years. Music making is not normally perceived as a threatening activity unless the performer causes himself an injury. For some time, Mr. Leisner was still able to perform demanding works such as the 12 Villa-Lobos Etudes and the Rodney Bennett Sonata using only thumb and forefinger, surely a feat of determination in itself. Seven years ago, through patient analysis and willpower, David Leisner fully cured himself and has come back with a vengeance. This recital showed a totally relaxed musician, in full control of all his faculties in a virtuosic display of the three qualities the New York Times could have been referring to – superb musicianship, intelligent compositional skill and a pedagogic but unpompous approach to programming.
The programme consisted essentially of four starters follow by three substantial works. The number was Lou Harrison’s short and good-humouredly unpredictable Serenade – Lou Harrison who died in February 2003 wrote lots of guitar music (including a piece for equal-tempered guitar) and was an associate of David Leisner’s own composition teacher, Virgil Thomson. This was followed by a rarity – Lennox Berkeley’s Quatre Pièces, written when the composer was a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris between 1927 and 1932. The work was written for Segovia after his Paris debut in 1924 and is a foreshadowing of Berkeley’s later solo guitar pieces (of which there are only two – the
Sonatina and the Theme, Variations and Finale) in their allusion to French harmony, a predilection for jazzy rhythms and an instinctive grasp of the sound of the guitar. On the piano, these pieces would probably be an afternoon’s work to learn, but they are tricky on the guitar. Mr. Leisner’s sure treatment led us through them without any pause for thought. The Quatre Pièces are part of an important series of works (including unplayed works by Scott, Mompou and Torroba) recently discovered in Segovia’s library by Angelo Gilardino.
The bluesy fourth Pièce took us nicely into Freedom Fantasies, Leisner’s interpretation of three spirituals. These were full of imagination and textural invention, by turns melodic and bitterly dissonant, but always referring to the roots of the guitar as an instrument of the people.
To end the first part, we had the blockbuster, Mertz’s Hungarian Fantasy. This is also music of the people in the sense that guitarists have more or less played it to death over the past few years. Why do people always play those first two chords in such a lumpen, respectful way? This is wild, dangerous music and needs to be played with a bit of braggadocio (or the Bohemian equivalent)! there were fireworks by the end, but in my humble opinion it seemed a missed opportunity to play either more from the newly discovered Segovia archive, some of Leisner’s own pieces, or more of the Schubert Mertz arrangements – in short, almost anything else! In an ironic way, musical tastes have come full circle, as David Leisner was a pioneer of Mertz’s music more than twenty years ago.
Passing on to the second half, Bach’s Chaconne, without its accompanying suite, was given an affectionately nostalgic reading – more Segovia via Busoni thatn the lusty South American Baroque import it originated from. So, no double-dotted dancing but rather a stately and noble processsion, which didn’t miss a beat or nuance. This transcription led to two gems in the form of Das Fischermädchen and Liebesbothschaft by Franz Schubert and transcribed by Mertz, probably inspired by Franz Liszt’s piano arrangements.
Paradoxically, these pieces, rather than being an expression of a guitarist’s pianist envy were here so beautifully executed, that any pianist would have given their right arm (or at least a few piano keys) to make them sound like this. If David Leisner was an architect in the Chaconne, here he was a jeweller – precise, bright and full of feeling.
Untethered and in dramatic mood, the performer now took the audience to the highlight of the programme – the Sonata by Ginastera – majestic and playful, with effortless, rhythmic drive, this was one of the most convincing performances of the work I have ever heard, fully bestowing upon it the status of a great piece for the guitar.
The encore was the twelfth etude by Villa-Lobos, played, I am glad to report, with full digital restoration!
In sum, the performance was one of a totally unselfconscious virtuoso who gently and undemonstratively led the listener into thrilling and deep emotional spaces. Because of this, in contrast to the review mentioned above, I would prefer to describe Mr. Leisner as a “triple-treat” performer displaying sheer musicality,intelligent creativity and insightful pedagogy.”
David Leisner’s imaginative, brilliantly played adaptations
By Leslie Gerber
“David Leisner is an accomplished composer as well as a successful guitar soloist. Both of those abilities come into play in this collection of Leisner’s own Bach transcriptions for guitar. The two lute pieces need only minor adaptations to fit the guitar; in the works for cello and flute, Leisner follows Bach’s own lead, imitating the way the composer adapted his Fifth Cello Suite for the lute. Leisner adds independent lines of his own against Bach’s music to create harmony and counterpoint that were merely implied in the originals – with completely convincing results. He also embellishes his repeats freely and boldly, as Bach himself or any good musician of his time would have done. THE RESULT IS SOME OF THE MOST STIMULATING BACH OF RECENT YEARS, BRILLIANTLY CONCEIVED AND PLAYED. Ironically, the recording quality sometimes makes the guitar sound rather like a lute, but that’s a minor problem if any. A few tiny flaws in the playing suggest that this recording has been minimally edited. Perhaps that’s why the performances sound so vital.”
Heitor Villa-Lobos: The Complete Solo Guitar Works – David Leisner, guitar; Alan
Hovhaness: Spirit of Trees, etc. – Yolanda Kondonassis, harp, David Leisner, guitar
Guitar Review, 2001
by Kristoffer Ricat
“After a long injury-related hiatus, guitarist David Leisner has returned full strength to the world of performance in recent years – and if his latest recordings are any indication, his musicianship and technique are stronger than ever.
The solo guitar works of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) are some of the most familiar pieces in the repertoire, frequently performed and frequently recorded. Mr. Leisner stands heads above the crowd on this recording, providing startling new insight into music that many of us feel we know so well. Most immediately striking is Leisner’s recording of the Twelve Etudes, which are heard here for the first time in Villa-Lobos’ own 1928 manuscript version. Perhaps Villa-Lobos’ most harmonically and rhythmically adventurous pieces for the instrument, many guitarists unfortunately approach them as little more than technical exercises or showcases for speed and dexterity. Leisner dares to break the trend and approach them as music, allowing us to hear the lush harmonies and rhythmic interplay so crucial to making this repertoire come alive. First brought to attention in a 1996 article for Guitar Review by Eduardo Fernandez, the 1928 manuscript contains differences (as compared to the well-known 1957 published edition) ranging from tempo changes (as in Etude 6) to the disappearance of repeats (Etudes 1 and 2) to whole new passages of music (Etude 10). Leisner makes a strong case for these early versions, bringing out nuance in passages that many players would gloss over, showing us the compositional beauty inherent to them while always maintaining a virtuosic command of the material. Not to be overshadowed by the Etudes, this recording also contains sensitive readings of the Five Preludes, from the lyrical opening of Prelude No. 1 to the waltz/choro of No. 5, and the lively dances that make up the Suite Populaire Bresilienne and Choros No. 1.
The American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) long traveled highly individualistic compositional terrain, unaffected by the trends of the twentieth century, writing music of sublime beauty. Combining elements of Oriental and Armenian music with his own personal modal style, his music achieves a mystic quality, which to the casual listener might border on ‘New Age’. While Hovhaness’ compositions may contain a harmonic language similar to that genre, they also encompass beautiful landscapes full of tightly wound canons, expansive chorales, and the balanced architecture of classical form. On the new Telarc recording of the harp music of Mr. Hovhaness, harpist Yolanda Kondonassis is joined by David Leisner for the world premiere recording of the sprawling 23 minute Spirit of Trees, subtitled Sonata for Harp and Guitar. A gorgeous work in five movements, the piece is based on the Baroque form of the sonata instead of the more familiar Classical structure of the same name. The opening movement begins with a thematic melody which is gently echoed between harp and guitar. This leads to the chordal mid-section, where we hear how beautifully matched Kondonassis and Leisner are, the effect being that of one imaginary stringed instrument with infinite subtle tone colors rather than the two separate performers we are, in reality, hearing. The Canon, serving as the second movement, contains dance-like rhythms, which instead of being hammered out for us are carefully accentuated by Leisner’s rich timbral pallete. The varied third movement uses everything from chorale-like chords to an energetic central fugue. The fourth movement opens with a cadenza for the harp, allowed to breathe and given appropriate delicacy by Ms. Kondonassis, and ends with a dance for the guitar reminiscent of the melody used for the Canon two movements prior. The whole work is finally brought to a close with what is perhaps the most gentle music of the entire piece, evoking a sort of haze falling over a grove of trees, harmonies unfolding almost as a remembrance of the earlier movements. The recording is rounded out with beautifully recorded performances of Hovhaness’ Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra, Upon Enchanted Ground, Sonata for Harp, and The Garden of Adonis.
After hearing these recordings, one can only hope that Leisner will continue to follow the path he is on, giving us both his creatively intelligent viewpoints of the classics and wonderfully presented first glimpses of important new repertoire.”
Guitarist’s artistry deepens through perserverance
Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 16, 2002
By Donald Rosenberg
“Classical guitarist David Leisner got a new lease on performing life several years ago after an extended period away from the stage due to a hand injury.
During his recital Sunday at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium, there were no technical hints that Leisner had ever suffered from a debilitating condition. The information was relevant only because the guitarist brought it up. But he needed to. Among the program’s works was Leisner’s “Nel Mezzo,” a sonata he composed in 1998 as music therapy. Happily, the piece is powerful enough to stand apart from autobiographical concerns.
The title translates “In the Middle,” a reference, Leisner said, partly to his midlife crisis. In three movements, the score journeys through conflicted, nostalgic and defiant regions. The language is tonal, with vividly characterized themes and structural elements that result in a series of compelling statements.
Leisner played the piece with the meticulous care he brought to every work on the program. Textures were clear and vibrato used subtly for expressive effect. In the piercing chordal passages and sung moments of “No!” – the sonata’s final movement – Leisner revealed the health both of his artistry and his psyche.
The program was split down the middle between original guitar works and transcriptions. In two Dowland pieces arranged by Karl Scheit, Leisner savored the elegant lines and dance rhythms.
Bach’s seminal Chaconne in D minor, written first for solo violin, benefited from the guitarist’s stylish transcription, as well as his ability to simulate long lines over the vast architecture. Schubert’s famous serenade, “Staendchen,” was delicately shaped.
Leisner’s technique was put to the test in the two remaining works, and he triumphed in both. Richard Winslow’s Variations on a Tune by Stephen Foster, written for the guitarist
while he was a student at Wesleyan University, transforms the 19th-century composer’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” into a fascinating web of variations ranging from the contemplative to the exuberant.
Three etudes by Villa-Lobos, which Leisner restored from original manuscripts, sounded fiery and haunting. They can be heard on a CD of the complete Villa-Lobos etudes Leisner made for the Cleveland-based Azica label.
Like Sunday’s recital, they are victorious performances by a musician whose perseverance deepened his artistry.”
A Torrent of Notes and Emotions from David Leisner
Corfu Progress, Greece, July 17, 1999
By Pavlos Apostolos
“Here…where we thought that it wasn’t possible to have anything better (in the festival), here…where we thought that all the concerts we heard thus far approached perfection… here it was where we made the mistake! It was difficult to believe that just a guitar could fill the hall like this and capture the audience.
This was the best recital of the year! The American David Leisner, after ten years of absence because of a hand injury, presented us last night with a REMARKABLE recital. His sound was perfect. With dynamics which were played with impeccable control, and with a technique that was the envy of every guitarist in the concert hall, Mr. Leisner literally immobilized us in our seats.
He started with two lovely works by F. Poulenc and Lou Harrison and continued with the world premiere of his own work, Sonata di Mezzo. Such a well-written work! The composition’s craftsmanship was allied perfectly to Leisner’s virtuoso hands and created something truly important. It is a work which will surely find favor with guitarists and listeners alike. He finished the first half with a set of variations by R. Winslow. It was here that we discovered that Mr. Leisner also has a very sensitive and expressive voice.
The second half of the recital was dedicated completely to the music of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. We heard the Twelve Etudes for guitar from the composer’s manuscript in its European premiere. I have never heard anyone play these etudes better.
It was truly a perfect presentation. David Leisner, who is visiting Greece for the first time, won us all over. Let us hope we will see him again soon