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Classical 101

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, Vocalist Isabel Leonard Give Voice to Spanish Soul in 'Alma Española'

'Alma Española' album cover
Bridge Records
Partial 'Alma Española' album artwork, featuring vocalist Isabel Leonard (left) and guitarist Sharon Isbin"

That old guitar that you strum from time to time — did you know it has a soul?

If musical instruments are said to have souls, then there is no instrument with a soul more Spanish than the guitar. And now, there is arguably no recording with a more Spanish soul than Alma Española, a new recording of Spanish music performed by two of classical music's most celebrated artists: guitarist Sharon Isbin and vocalist Isabel Leonard.

The first of its kind in decades, Alma Española has the potential to become a landmark.

"It's actually the first time in 40 years that this type of art song from Spain — with guitar and a well-known, major, Spanish-speaking singer — have been brought together," Isbin said in a recent phone interview.

For more than 30 years, Isbin's career has taken her to concert halls and recording studios around the globe and, on many occasions, on long sojourns in Spain, her instrument’s ancestral home.

Leonard, a native speaker of Spanish and English, brings top-drawer singing chops and an awareness of Spanish-speaking culture that might elude even other world-class singers.

Credit Bridge Records / bridgerecords.com
Full 'Alma Española' album artwork

"When you hear [Leonard] read the poetry in one of the songs and her pronunciation and her sense of spirit about the music — it's got to be in the blood of the singer," Isbin said. "I can’t imagine a more perfect partner with whom to have done this album."

In the interview above, hear Isbin talk about Alma Española, the recording's roots in the tradition of soulful flamenco cante jondo, "deep song" and, combining voice and guitar, the profound intimacy of its sound world — all of which, Isbin said, the recording's title reflects.


"I had come up with a bunch of titles, all of which Isabel rejected," Isbin said. "And she said, 'No, I don’t think any of those capture it. This is really alma Española, the Spanish soul.' And she's right, because it's not about one song or another one.

"It's really about the whole spirit of Spain," Isbin continued, "as captured by these composers and arrangers who steeped themselves in the culture and in the history of that yearning, that longing, that nostalgia, that beauty, that jubilation — all of which is brought together under the beautiful context of combining the intimacy of guitar with voice."

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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