Collection: Julian Bream Edition

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COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: RCA Gold Seal
WORKS: Various
PERFORMER: Julian Bream (guitar/lute), plus other artists including: Peggy Ashcroft, David Atherton, Colin Davis, John Eliot Gardiner, George Malcolm, The Melos Ensemble, Peter Pears and André Previn
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61583 2 ADD/DDD (28 discs)

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Julian Bream’s pre-eminence is so long established we have been in danger of taking him for granted. Now this handsome 60th birthday tribute puts his stature in true perspective. No other guitarist, living or dead (not even Segovia), can match Bream’s achievement as a recording artist. His range is staggering.

Which other instrumentalist can boast a repertoire that extends so comprehensively from the 16th century to the late 20th? This mammoth collection from his 31 years with RCA spans almost 300 works by more than 80 composers. The eight CDs featuring (mostly English) music for lute include a thorough survey of the works of John Dowland (one of the chief delights of the set), incorporating around 40 pieces for the solo instrument plus over a dozen songs. Two discs feature the Julian Bream Consort, in both its enthusiastic original and its more polished reconstituted forms.

Bream stays with the lute for concertos by Vivaldi but uses the guitar for solo pieces from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, and chamber music by Boccherini and Haydn. The 20th-century guitar renaissance, for which Bream can take no small amount of credit, is represented by six discs (two of concertos), including works by Arnold, Berkeley, Britten, Brouwer, Maxwell Davies, Henze, Rawsthorne and Walton – many written specially for him. Villa-Lobos and Rodrigo merit a disc apiece, as well as appearing on others (with no fewer than three versions of the Concierto de Aranjuez), and there are four discs of Spanish classics – including a superbly played group of Albéniz/Granados transcriptions.

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Other guitarists can equal, perhaps even surpass, Bream’s technical prowess, but it is the depth of his musicianship that impresses time and again; sensibility and expressiveness allied to great beauty of tone, and the ability to transmit his own belief in the worth of the music he chooses to play. This is an indispensable retrospective of a lifetime’s work by one of our most treasurable musicians, and the sooner RCA makes the discs available to a wider public by issuing them separately the better. David Michaels