This is a striking year of anniversaries for guitarists. The Britten centenary is given additional resonance as his Nocturnal was written a half-century ago for Julian Bream, who is 80. These discs take different approaches to this convergence, though they both, in addition to Nocturnal, feature another major Bream commission: Walton’s Five Bagatelles.
On Stefano Grondona’s collection, a pair of pieces by Takemitsu and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Impromptus join the Britten and Walton, all five works being Bream commissions. If that is not enough to whet the appetite of guitar aficionados, Grondona also highlights the work of the celebrated luthier José Romanillos, playing three of his instruments, as well as one used by Bream while at the height of his career. The resulting performances have an exceptionally warm, mellifluous sound. Takemitsu’s Muir Woods is beautiful and Grondona finds a wonderful range of colour in the Five Bagatelles and Nocturnal, though occasionally the music does not flow entirely naturally. Unfortunately two significant caveats temper enjoyment of these generally strong performances. While it is good to know there is a breathing musician in control of the instrument, Grondona’s vocalisations at more pressing moments are distracting. Moreover, behind the close recording is a wash of (artificially applied?) resonance which makes a potentially stunning disc periodically unpleasant.