There’s a thread of autobiography woven through Lily Afshar’s Hemispheres, an album that not only touches repeatedly on the classical guitarist’s Persian cultural heritage but also travels the globe almost as far and wide as her musical career has taken her. The ambitiously diverse program offers few familiar touchstones of the guitar repertoire—composer Leo Brouwer’s name is the principal one—yet not a track goes by without causing the listener to marvel at the beauty of Afshar’s tone and her mastery of the instrument’s technique. It’s no wonder that several of the pieces recorded here were written for Afshar by composers who found her performances inspiring; most of these works receive their world premieres on this album. Among them, Polish composer Gerard Drozd’s “Triptych” and John Schneider’s “Prelude” and “Fugato” both balance the guitar’s lyrical possibilities with passages of intricate finger work, as if precisely to show off the breadth of Afshar’s talents. Reza Vali—born, like Afshar, in Iran—takes the opportunity to explore the modes of traditional Persian music in his Gozaar (Calligraphy No. 5), asking Afshar to coax unusually evocative harmonies from her instrument, and Garry Eister’s “Fantasia on a Traditional Persian Song” plays with quarter-tone tunings that allude to the distinctive sound of the seh-tar, a guitar-like instrument that Afshar adopts on the following track, Iranian composer Mortez Neydavood’s “Bird of Dawn.” Adding in a variety of other short pieces that further enrich the scintillating palette, Lily Afshar has crafted an album that not only marks her as an artist to watch but also expands the horizons of any guitar aficionado who hears it.
by Scott Paulin, Barnes & Noble