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Gramophone – 10 British Guitar Recordings

10 British guitar recordings

Celebrate Julian Bream’s 80th birthday with guitar works by British composers

There are certain phrases – like ‘British tennis player’ and ‘Wimbledon champion’ – that you don’t expect to see together. Once upon a time this was also true of ‘Britain’ and ‘classical guitar’ – the Spanish composer Tárrega once went so far as to remark that: ‘The guitar in the hands of an Englishman is almost blasphemy’. 

Tárrega, however, didn’t live to witness the career of Julian Bream, the remarkable musician whose contribution to creating a British guitar spirit, through offering encouragement and inspiration to composers, and then tirelessly championing their works, soon rendered Tárrega’s comment mere flippancy.

Below are 10 British classical guitar works to explore – if you’re not familiar with much of this beautiful repertoire, then it should make a superb starting point. I don’t think the guitar’s soundworld can ever fully escape the evocative influences of Iberia – but nor really should one want it to – but in the hands of the likes of Britten and Walton, guitar music also gained a repertoire which has powerfully and poignantly become an indelible part of British modern music tradition.

And why are we running this list today? Not because Andy Murray has finally found victory on the lawns of Wimbledon, but because the man for whom a remarkable number of the following works were written, Julian Bream, is 80 today. The following are played by a variety of soloists who have taken up those works themselves – what better or more appropriate way to celebrate Bream’s legacy? There are other works of course – by these and other composers – which could easily have been included. When you’ve read mine, why not let us know what you would you put in your list?

1) Michael Tippett The Blue Guitar – Craig Ogden (Nimbus) 

2) Malcolm Arnold Concerto For Guitar And Chamber Orchestra – Julian Bream (EMI)

3) Benjamin Britten Nocturnal after John Dowland – Craig Ogden (Hyperion) 

4) William Walton Five Bagatelles – Sharon Isbin (Virgin Classics) 

5) Lennox Berkeley Guitar Concerto – Craig Odgen (Chandos) 

6) Lennox Berkeley Sonatina – Graham Anthony Devine (Naxos) 

7) Nicholas Maw Music of Memory – Antonis Hatzinikolaou (NMC) 

8) Richard Rodney Bennett Five Impromptus – Graham Anthony Devine (Naxos) 

9) Alan Rawsthorne Elegy – Graham Anthony Devine (Naxos) 

10) John Dowland Lachrimae (Pavan) – David Russell (Telarc)
(Originally for lute of course, but just to show guitar from within the British shores is a far from purely modern phenomenon!)

Martin Cullingford  (15th July 2013)  posted at: Gramophone.co.uk