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Guitarra: The Guitar in Spain
First Movement, Prelude: The Golden Century [25:46]; Second Movement, Country Dances: The Baroque Guitar [25:58]; Third Movement, Rondo: The Guitar in the Classical Period [26:01]; Fourth Movement, Serenade: Flamenco and Romantic Guitar [25:50]
Fifth Movement, Rhapsody: Granados and Nationalism [26:46]; Sixth Movement, Evocation: Isaac Albéniz [25:20]; Seventh Movement, Homage: The Guitar in the Twentieth Century [24:59]; Eighth Movement, Finale: The Concierto de Aránjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo [25:35]
Julian Bream (guitar)
The Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Sir Charles Groves
Devised and presented by Julian Bream
Director: Barrie Gavin;
Producer: Laurence Boulting
Region Code: 0; NTSC
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 003 DVD [103:35 + 102:41]


In 1947 Andrès Segovia was at the zenith of his career and the classical guitar dominated by the Spanish-speaking world. In that same year Julian Bream, a young fourteen year-old Englishman, gave his debut recital. Few could have predicted that forty years later, when Segovia died, many would regard him as a successor.

Equally unpredictable was that in the same intervening period Spain, the revered bastion of classical guitar construction, would become progressively supplanted by a former British penal colony as a viable alternative source of instruments. Today Australian-made guitars enjoy a reputation second to none.

‘Guitarra’, featuring guitarist Julian Bream, is a suite of films presenting the history of the guitar in Spain. There are eight movements, each constituting a 25-minute film. The production is divided into two DVDs, each of four movements; each four-movement segment represents about 103 minutes of viewing.

Only one work, the three-movement Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo, is presented in totality. The vast majority of the other items are solos from the guitar repertory. Exceptions include the two-part Introduction and Rondo by Aguado that is truncated to only the Rondo. The three-movement Sonatina in A major by Torroba receives similar treatment with only the first movement appearing. Segovia also treated the first movement as a solo in his early recordings.

The vast majority of the material has made past appearances in diverse formats and presentations; included is a release of the same name by ‘Kultur’ that appears to contain identical material.

Julian Bream is 72 years old and it is indeed fortunate that all this wonderful material has been preserved and is available in such an accessible and user-friendly format.

He is a very colourful and charismatic individual, be it in his attire, gesticulations, or facial expressions during recitals. His unique style of commentary is both expressive and entertaining particularly because it is spontaneous rather than read verbatim. In all suites much of the commentary is by Bream, and conveys not only his deep understanding of the music but also extensive knowledge of all germane historical intelligence.

Of the many memorable impressions one gains, a sense of his profound insight, understanding and intimate familiarity with the music is predominant. Nobody plays this music like Julian Bream; his uniqueness is unequivocal and undisputed.

Among the 206 minutes of gems it is challenging to single out any one highlight because magic emerges in every suite. Occasionally, be it in live performance or during recording, a musician produces magic which excels all past renditions including his own. For this writer such an occasion occurs in the Rondo from ‘Introduction and Rondo’ by Aguado. Both in his commentary and exemplified in performance, Bream indicates affinity for this rather technically challenging work. The musicianship and technical command demonstrated in this particular rendition can only be described as magnificent and transcending all others available, including his recorded version on RCA PL 14033.

A most entertaining section is that in which Bream, via some technical manipulation, is presented playing the Fandango from Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet in D major (G 448) as a duet with himself.

Flamenco guitar is a very important aspect of the guitar in Spain, and Bream explains that although related, it is another very different genre and one with which he has little practical familiarity. To fill this void Paco Peña is employed in suite four to demonstrate and explain the art of flamenco guitar playing, not only as the solo instrument into which it has evolved, but also as an important accompaniment to singers and dancers. It is obvious that Bream holds Peña in high regard. It may be more than coincidental that John Williams also involved Peña in the latter commentary section of his ‘Concert in Seville’ video production.

In the earlier suites Bream plays four-course guitar, vihuela and baroque guitar demonstrating musicianship that is totally independent of any instrument. He is indeed fortunate to have access to such high quality period instruments through association with luthier Jose Romanillos who also made the guitars used in this production.

Those familiar with the guitar will recognise many unidentified scenes such as in the workshop of luthier Manuel Contreras.

Lack of editorial attention has resulted in Bream being shown in photographs, both in the accompanying booklet and on the cover of the presentation, as left-handed which of course he is not.

This is a very educational, entertaining and significant production on the history of the guitar in Spain. Sight and sound become synergistic partners, titillating the senses far beyond the individual capabilities of either.

‘Guitarra’ is highly recommended viewing, and a fine tribute to a great guitarist.

Zane Turner





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