Available from 25 September 2006
this DVD is essentially a reissue of the same material that appeared
several years ago.
the spring of 2002, and after 55 years ‘on the planks’ Julian
Bream made the difficult decision to retire from the concert
platform. In 2003 director Paul Balmer returned with Bream to
Aldeburgh, revisiting the original manuscript of the famous
Op. 70 at Britten’s home. This culminated in Bream coming out
of retirement to record complete movements of Nocturnal and
De Falla’s Homenaje in the wonderful acoustics of the
Maltings Concert Hall, Snape.
presentation format of this DVD is very well conceived and is
divided into two sections: a two-hour narrative and a section
of bonus features that lasts just over one hour. The
narrative on the life of Julian Bream has copious film clips,
photographs and a most spontaneous and entertaining dialogue
by Bream. Much of it was photographed in his beautiful home
in Semely, Dorset and in the surrounding countryside - Thomas Hardy country. The second
part contains ten fascinating segments.
will be very interested in the section entitled Guitarist’s
Delight wherein Bream talks about such interesting subjects
as the history of nylon strings and how he obtained a set of
the very first made by the Albert Agustine Company of New York. So treasured were they that after
a concert he washed them, hung them out to dry and then put
them back on his guitar for the next concert.
the segment Archive Music Clips Bream plays the Aguado
Rondo from Op. 2. To describe it as magic hardly does this particular
rendition justice. In another segment, friend Jill Balcon reads
Bream’s favourite poem Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy
and for those interested in the challenges and logistics of
making such a DVD, this can be found in segment entitled The
Makers Of ....
once noted that to understand history you must first understand
the historian. The uniqueness of Julian Bream among 20th century
guitarists is often challenging to articulate; much of that
challenge dissipates having once viewed this DVD.
many have designated Bream as the successor to Andrès Segovia
in reality they had little in common; that both were autodidactic
is obviously one commonality. Such circumstances create significant
individuality as is well evidenced by Segovia, Bream and NarcisoYepes to mention
but three examples. So many of today’s guitar graduates from
famous music schools play well but sound like clones of their
must concede that irrespective of his chosen instrument Bream
would have been an outstanding musician. The guitar is fortunate
that he made it his instrument of choice. Early influence on
his guitar playing included exposure to cello and piano the
latter of which was the basis on which he was admitted to the
Royal College of Music where there was no guitar tuition.
as a young man Bream possessed an innate sense of phrasing,
he speaks at length of experience accompanying tenor Peter Pears.
From this he learned, for the first time to accompany and to
be aware of the singer breathing; it changed his whole concept
of even his own solo playing because he realised how terribly
important phrasing is. I am reminded of a comment, equally relevant
but about a different craft. It was said of writer John Banville:
‘He is the kind of writer whose spaces and silences are as critical
as what is clearly delineated.’ (Bibliofemme).
number of additional eclectic musical experiences combined to
forge the foundation of Bream’s formidable musicianship: he
played renaissance lute, four-course guitar, vihuela and baroque
guitar; he also played jazz guitar and is enamoured of the style
of Django Reinhardt. He describes jazz as influencing his playing
of classical music by creating an atmosphere of ‘here and now’.
Bream played duets with harpsichordist George Malcolm and guitarist
John Williams and visited India
to play improvisational sessions with sarode player Ali Akbar
Khan; he described Khan as the greatest musician he has ever
heard. Bream established the Julian Bream Consort, a group
that began a revival in early consort music which still continues.
During his early career Bream also played plectrum guitar in
several different bands.
Segovia championed the guitar as a solo instrument
and with the exception of orchestral music made no recordings
of the guitar in any other context.
other thing that Bream shared with Segovia
was a desire to expand the rather meagre repertory. Although
Bream’s appeals for new guitar compositions failed with Paul
Hindemith and Stravinsky, he succeeded magnificently with composers
such as Alan Rawsthorne, Lennox Berkeley, William Walton, Richard
Rodney Bennett and of course Benjamin Britten. A total of twenty-four
composers of international repute have written original compositions
for Bream. After playing for Walton his interpretation of Bagatelles
for Guitar, Bream commented: ‘I played it exactly as you
wrote it’ to which Walton responded: ‘you got it better’. Bennett
noted that while others may play his Concerto for Guitar
more intellectually, Bream played it with a poetry, mystery
and darkness like no other.
only was Bream responsible for numerous important new repertory
additions, in 1951 at his first London recital at the Wigmore
Hall, he set a new standard for classical guitar concert programmes
by playing the entire J.S. Bach Lute Suite No. 3. In concerts,
traditionally only played single movements from suites.
expresses his considerable empathy for the Spanish culture.
He also says that his interpretations of some Spanish music
- e.g. that of Albéniz and Granados - may be un-Spanish for
the Spaniard but for others it is an image of Spain that they comprehend, understand and
are charmed by. The same could be said of Bream’s interpretations
of music by Villa-Lobos. Prior to the initial release of his
recording of the Villa-Lobos preludes, Bream had the opportunity
personally to play them to the composer. Contrasted with a rather
critical reception and demonstration of alternative interpretations
by the composer, Villa-Lobos subsequently purchased copies of
the recording as personal gifts for friends and associates.
The interpretations of Spanish guitar music by Jose Luis Gonzalez
may be in a class of their own, but Bream’s interpretive approach
is something that this writer can ‘comprehend, understand and
be charmed by’ to put it conservatively.
May 2003 Bream summarised his fifty-five ‘years on the planks’
as: ‘passion and desire to communicate - that’s the key’.
the conclusion of this DVD, and in similar vein to the completion
of a particularly enjoyable book, I felt at a loss in that,
like all things, this experience ‘too had come to pass’. I
also reflected on concluding remarks from Bream’s biography
with Tony Palmer, A Life On The Road: ‘Most people have
someone. He has no one’. Twenty- three years have passed since
the publication of that book and, now in his retirement from
the concert platform, we know that along with Bream’s beloved
music his dog, Django, fills some of that void.
is a splendid presentation with wide musical appeal, but to
guitarists it is an Aladdin’s cave.
While it is a general truism that Segovia only
ever recorded solo or with an
orchestra, two exceptions have subsequently come to my attention.
In 1936 Manuel Ponce arranged his Weiss pastiche 'Prelude' for
guitar as a
duet with keyboard. It was a wedding gift on the occasion of Segovia's
second marriage to pianist Paquita Madriguera. In 1959 Segovia
with harpsichordist Rafael Puyana.
In 1963 Segovia made a film for N.B.C. television. One item included
guitar/string quartet arrangement of Andante Cantabile from Boccherini's