Julian Bream in Concerto

Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829) Guitar Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 30 [23:10]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-20061) Guitar Concerto, Op. 67 (1959) [21:53]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Sonatina, Op. 51 (1957) [10:40]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Pavane pour une infante défunte [6:47]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937) Segovia for guitar, Op. 29 (1924) [2:23]
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801) Sonata in C sharp minor; Sonata in A Major [3:00 + 1:48]
Julian Bream (guitar)
Melos Ensemble/Malcolm Arnold
rec. 1960. ADD
ALTO ALC 1174 [70:02]
Julian Bream remains one of the iconic names of the classical guitar. He, together with John Williams, re-established the instrument in the 1970s after the passing of Segovia. There were others including Narciso Yepes and Alexandre Lagoya but they did not have the same media profile as Bream and Williams. Both players had recording and concert reputations bound up with the fortunes of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Each recorded the work several times over. Bream stayed this side of populism while Williams not only dipped his toes in popular culture but went for total immersion with his group Sky and with concerts in duo with Pete Townsend of The Who. He was also the solo guitar ‘voice’ in Stanley Myers’ hauntingly cool Cavatina – from The Deerhunter. Bream made several ‘Together’ albums with Williams and each recorded for both CBS and RCA – now united in Sony-BMG. Their zenith came in the 1960s and 1970s after which a flood of new guitarists – many of whom had been taught by these two players – permeated a suddenly vastly variegated classical guitar market.
Bream always seems to me the more serious of the two: a certain intense absorption permeates his playing and his choice of repertoire. This is reflected in the many modern commissions and in his sustained and in-depth interest in music of the renaissance. Among the composers who have written for him are Reginald Smith Brindle, Lennox Berkeley, Britten, Richard Rodney Bennett, Fricker, Rawsthorne, William Walton (Five Bagatelles); Searle, Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies (Hill Runes), Michael Tippett (The Blue Guitar), Takemitsu and Brouwer. Quite a roll-call.
The present collection mixes music of the 18th century with that of the last century. Bream’s phenomenal dexterity, remarkable dynamic range and a gift for the soft and the non-percussive are a benediction. Allowing for some scrawny sound from the string ensemble the Giuliani, rather like the concluding pair of Cimarosa sonatas, celebrates the guitar in slow beauty and Mozartean delight. The sound is very forward and confident. You can hear that in the Malcolm Arnold concerto, which is an unalloyed enchantment – certainly in the outer movements. The central movement recalls the darker Arnold of the Seventh and Ninth symphonies. It’s a blues elegy for the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, whose playing Bream idolised as a child. The whole concerto is rife with the play of sunlight off water in a sea cave at low tide: all glittering green, slate grey and aquamarine.
The multi-faceted and mercurial Berkeley Sonatina is in three stimulating movements. It was written for Bream. The final Rondo is especially good and does not shrink from Iberian atmosphere. The Ravel Pavane is better known in its orchestral guise. It thrives, however, in this arrangement. The guitar suits its plangent, melancholic and dignified ways. The characterful little Roussel piece was written during Segovia’s visit to Paris in 1924.
The typically good notes are by Alto regular, James Murray.
Rob Barnett
The Bream benediction: phenomenal dexterity, remarkable dynamics and a gift for the soft and the non-percussive.