About this Recording
8.557040 - BRITISH GUITAR MUSIC
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British Guitar Music
Walton • Maxwell Davies • Rawsthorne • Berkeley • Rodney Bennett

Julian Bream was the inspiration for many of the works by British composers for the guitar. Building on the work of the great guitarist Andrés Segovia, Bream commissioned music from a number of composers with international reputations, thus creating a whole new repertoire of guitar music, which had until then belonged largely to the sound world of Spain and Latin America. At the same time Julian Bream played an important rôle in the revival of interest in the Elizabethan lute, with his recitals of solo lute music, accompaniments for singers such as Peter Pears and Robert Tear, concerts with the harpsichordist George Malcolm and the establishment of his own consort, bringing early music to a new audience.

The present recording begins with William Walton’s only piece for solo guitar, his five Bagatelles. Dedicated to Malcolm Arnold, these miniatures have won firm favour among guitarists. They were first performed by Julian Bream in 1972. When Bream had first asked him to write a piece for solo guitar, Walton had expressed some uncertainty in taking on such a task. As he later remarked, “never having thought of writing for the solo guitar I asked Julian for a fingerboard chart, which would explain what the guitar could do. I managed to write some rather pretty pieces for him except that the first six notes of the first piece all need to be played on the open strings. So when he begins to play, the audience will probably think he’s tuning the bloody thing up!”

Walton need not have worried: with its fanfare-like opening, the first Bagatelle seizes the attention at once. The first section is full of charm and wit fused with jazzy harmonies. This leads to a more melancholic midsection, where a beautiful reflective melody is set against lush accompanying chords. A return to the opening material is heard before a conclusion in triumphant style. The second Bagatelle is slightly reminiscent of Satie, with its hypnotic accompaniment set underneath a cool, breezy melody. The third of the set, entitled Alla Cubana, uses the syncopated rhythms often found in Latin-American music. The serene fourth Bagatelle leads to a virtuoso tour-de-force fifth, an exciting climax to the set.

One of the leading British composers of today, Peter Maxwell Davies has written compositions that cover a wide variety of forms and musical styles, including works for the guitar. Farewell to Stromness was, in fact, originally a piano solo from a set of cabaret-style pieces called The Yellow Cake Revue. It is a simple, haunting lament, such as a Scottish piper or fiddler might have played. The present arrangement is by Timothy Walker.

Alan Rawsthorne abandoned studies of dentistry and of architecture to enter the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1925, at the age of nineteen, studying the piano with Frank Merrick and later, abroad, with Egon Petri. His Elegy for guitar was his last composition, left unfinished at his death in 1971 and completed by Julian Bream. It is a moving work, full of passion and deep emotion, and from its broody dark opening Rawsthorne creates an atmosphere of sadness and despair. A hectic toccata-like section follows before a return to the opening section, in a work that seems a premonition of mortality.

In 1957 Lennox Berkeley wrote his Sonatina, Op. 52, for Julian Bream, who gave the first performance the following year. The first movement is in traditional sonata form, its lyrical opening reminiscent of English folk-song. The second movement suggests French influence, a characteristic trait of a composer of partly French ancestry and a pupil of Nadia Boulanger. It begins with a simple motif that twists and turns throughout a variety of moods, magically recalling the reflective delicacy of some of Debussy’s piano music. The final movement is in rondo form.

The same composer’s Theme and Variations, Op. 77, was written in 1970 for the Italian guitarist Angelo Gilardino who gave the first performance the following year in Italy. Again as in the Sonatina, both English and French influences can be heard. The theme is followed by six short and finely crafted variations, with a final variation of particular beauty, ending with an air of meditation.

Berkeley’s Quatre pièces pour la guitare were written when the composer was a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris between 1927 and 1932. Berkeley had been present at Andrés Segovia’s Paris début recital in 1924, a performance that must have made a strong impression on the young composer as the Quatre pièces were dedicated to the great Spanish guitarist. Although a very early composition, it demonstrates the composer’s understanding of writing for the guitar and of its possibilities, confirmed in his later guitar pieces. Curiously Segovia never performed the Quatre pièces, which were found among his papers only in 2001.

Richard Rodney Bennett is one of the most versatile of British composer/performers. His compositions range from solo instrumental pieces to full symphonic works, and from brass band compositions to opera. As if all these activities were not enough he writes film music and regularly performs as a jazz pianist, singer and composer, touring extensively throughout the world. The Five Impromptus of 1968 were his first compositions for the guitar, and were dedicated to Julian Bream. Each one explores a different mood, restless, tranquil, gritty or sensual.

Graham Devine


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