Author Topic: Julian Bream Retrospective  (Read 3210 times)

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Julian Bream Retrospective
« on: July 10, 2007, 05:36:31 AM »
A new DVD looks at the legacy of Julian Bream.  Too bad Stravinsky was such a jerk...


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/arts/music/10brea.html?_r=1&ref=music&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin

For anyone passionate about the guitar and lute repertories, Julian Bream’s annual tours used to be highlights of the concert season. His guitar programs invariably included something new, written for him by composers like Britten, Walton, Takemitsu and Hans Werner Henze. And his lute programs helped win an audience for John Dowland and his Elizabethan contemporaries long before Sting set his sights on him. It was a recording by Mr. Bream and the tenor Peter Pears that introduced Sting to this music, and Sting’s successful CD “Songs From the Labyrinth” inspired Sony BMG Masterworks to restore some Bream recordings to the catalog.

They should never have fallen out of print in the first place, and it is shocking that many of Mr. Bream’s classic recordings remain unavailable. Mr. Bream, who turns 74 this month, has gone out of circulation as well. He retired in 2002 after, as he put it, “55 years on the planks.”

For me his absence from New York concert halls since the late 1990s is clear evidence of a decline in the quality of life. Others have also felt it keenly; next season a handful of younger guitarists will present a 75th-birthday tribute concert at the 92nd Street Y. Their focus no doubt will be on Mr. Bream’s contributions to the repertory. But what they won’t be able to convey is the warmth of his sound and his persuasive personality, which came through in his music making and his informative and often amusing comments about the music at hand.

Those qualities are captured vividly in “Julian Bream: My Life in Music,” a 2003 documentary by Paul Balmer that was originally available through guitar collectors’ shops and has now been released on DVD by Avie. Its core is a series of candid, detailed interviews, filmed in England at Aldeburgh and Mr. Bream’s home in Dorset, that are illustrated with documentary materials (family photographs, memorabilia and glimpses of manuscript scores) and performances, both new and archival.

Mr. Bream has mastered the art of autobiographical musing. Rather than reciting his career milestones, he tends to speak in terms of coincidences that moved him from one musical discovery to the next.

A job playing guitar in a Kenneth Tynan production of Shakespeare’s “Othello” at a library in Manchester led him to spend a leisure hour in the stacks, where he happened on a collection of Dowland works in Peter Warlock’s piano arrangements. Immediately taken with the music, he decided that it should be heard on the instrument it was written for, and he had a lute made. From there it was a short leap to the Julian Bream Consort, his pioneering 1950s and ’60s period-instrument band, shown on the DVD in a vintage BBC performance: a zesty reading of Dowland’s “Can She Excuse My Wrongs.”

A central thread is Mr. Bream’s quest to expand the contemporary guitar repertory beyond the mostly Spanish and Latin American composers who wrote for Andrés Segovia. It wasn’t an easy sale. Paul Hindemith declined Mr. Bream’s request for a piece.

He tried unsuccessfully to corner Stravinsky during that composer’s visits to London, or at least to reach him on the telephone. (Once he did. Stravinsky shouted “Who?” and hung up.) And when a Canadian television crew filming Stravinsky at a recording session in 1963 brought him together with Mr. Bream, the meeting was painfully awkward. Stravinsky is seen on the DVD wiggling out of an invitation for a more leisurely discussion, so Mr. Bream tries to win him over on the spot by unpacking his lute and playing Dowland’s “Lachrimae Pavan.” The encounter did not produce the new work Mr. Bream so desperately wanted.

He had better luck with British composers, most notably Britten, whose “Nocturnal” (1963) is unquestionably the greatest work composed for Mr. Bream and is now a centerpiece of the guitar literature. Yet even then persuasion was necessary. Britten was more interested in the lute than in the guitar, so Mr. Bream had to redirect the composer’s attention subtly to the modern instrument. Britten had it both ways: The work is scored for guitar, but it is a set of remarkably picturesque variations on Dowland’s “Come, Heavy Sleep.”

A 2003 performance of the concluding section of “Nocturnal” shows that even after retirement Mr. Bream’s technique and his probing interpretive imagination were intact. The new performances are beautifully filmed; an account of Manuel de Falla’s “Homenaje, Pour le Tombeau de Debussy” focuses entirely on the finger work.

But the real treats are the archival clips. Among the more straightforward are a performance with Mr. Pears of Dowland’s “Fine Knacks for Ladies,” a solo performance of a Bach fugue and an informal but fire-breathing duet with the guitarist John Williams. More surprising are segments showing Mr. Bream and friends starting an evening at a pub and then repairing to his home to play jazz, and a 1962 improvisation with the sarod player Ali Akbar Khan in which Mr. Bream picks up Mr. Khan’s themes with an effortlessness and a fluency that say a lot about his musicianship.

The DVD’s drawbacks are few. Chronology is thrown to the wind at times, and the dates and sources of the television material could have been given more clearly and consistently. The interview segments are indexed, but the performances are nestled within those segments, unindexed. Still, there is plenty to revel in here: the documentary runs 2 hours with another 75 minutes of performances, interviews and other materials among the bonus features.


Offline Grazioso

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2007, 02:36:46 AM »
Thanks for the interesting post. Those interested in Bream may want to check this out--six discs for only $21 at Amazon:

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. --Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Offline Jo498

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2021, 08:43:56 AM »
I could get a bunch of discs from the mid 1990s Bream collection. I am not even a great fan of plucked instruments but some of these seem highly regarded, e.g. Vol. 12, the 20th century anthology (with Walton, Henze etc. often written for? Bream) and the baroque *guitar*
However, some other volumes are a bit confusing.

There is a lot of lute recordings, apparently some overlap among them, I'd want to avoid but I am not sure which one to pick.

Vol. 1 English Lute music
Vol 4 The Woods so Wild

Vol 6 Julian Bream Consort and Vol.7 Fantasies, Ayres & Dances

Any comments or other recs?
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Online Mandryka

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2021, 09:52:27 AM »
I could get a bunch of discs from the mid 1990s Bream collection. I am not even a great fan of plucked instruments but some of these seem highly regarded, e.g. Vol. 12, the 20th century anthology (with Walton, Henze etc. often written for? Bream) and the baroque *guitar*
However, some other volumes are a bit confusing.

There is a lot of lute recordings, apparently some overlap among them, I'd want to avoid but I am not sure which one to pick.

Vol. 1 English Lute music
Vol 4 The Woods so Wild

Vol 6 Julian Bream Consort and Vol.7 Fantasies, Ayres & Dances

Any comments or other recs?

In truth I think that he’s so musical that everything is well worth hearing and cherishing.

 I remember really enjoying the Villa Lobos Etudes, and if you can tolerate the voice, everything he did with Peter Pears. This is a wonderful thing but I’m not sure if it’s available commercially now - I can let you have very good non commercial transfers



LP 1: Julian Bream Consort: An evening of Elizabethan Music (1963)
Side 1:    22:43
01  William Byrd: Mounsiers Almaine
02  William Byrd: Pavin
03  William Byrd: My Lord of Oxenfords Maske
04  John Johnson: The Flatt Pavin
05  Richard Allison: The Batchelars Delight
06  Anonym: Kemps Jig (transcr. David Lumsden)
07  Peter Philips: Philips Pavin
08  Thomas Morley: O Mistresse Mine
09  Thomas Morley: Fantasie: La Rondinella
10  Thomas Morley: Joyne Hands
Side 2:    24:05
11  John Dowland: Lachrimae Pavin
12  John Dowland: Fantasie
13  Richard Allison: De La Tromba Pavin
14  Thomas Campian: It fell on a summers day
15  John Dowland: Dowlands Adew
16  Thomas Morley: The Frog Galliard
17  Anonym: LA Rossignol
18  John Dowland: Tarletons Resurrection
19  John Dowland: Galliard: Can she excuse

LP 2: Julian Bream, lutenist: The golden age of English lute music (1961)
Side 3:    22:19
01  Robert Johnson: 2 Almaines
02  John Johnson: Fantasia
03  Francis Cutting: Walsingham
04  John Dowland: Mignarda
05  Francis Cutting: Almaine
06  Philip Rosseter: Galliard
07  Francis Cutting: Greensleeves
Side 4:    24:25
08  John Dowland: Galliard upon a Galliard of Daniel Batchelar
09  Thomas Morley  Pavan
10  Robert Johnson I: Carman's whistle
11  Bulman: Pavan
12  Daniel Batchelar: Mounsiers Almaine
13  Anthony Holborne: Pavan
14  John Dowland: Bate;; Galliard
15  Anthony Holborne: Galliard

Julian Bream Consort; John Bream, lutenist: Elizabethan Music
LP 30 cm: RCA RK 11518/1-2  26.35045
Total time:   1:33:32



Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

Offline Jo498

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2021, 10:37:14 AM »
Thanks, theses LPs are both in that 1990s RCA collection (not sure about current availability, I am considering a private used seller) If I want the LP transfers I'll get back to you eventually. I am on the fence wrt to lute and guitar. I used to dislike most of this, but this was partly because of the horrible Diabelli, Giuliani, Paganini etc. 19th century stuff I had heard on the radio.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Jo498

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2021, 09:21:16 AM »
I got the (slightly filled up) CD versions of the two LP mentioned above (Vol.1 + Vol.6), as well as two with more 1970s-80s recordings of the same repertoire (Vol.4 The Woods so Wild and  Vol.7 Fantasies, Ayres & Dances) and also two guitar discs (one baroque, one 20th century Vol.12). I have not heard Vol. 4 but the other lute solo disc is very nice. I cannot really say much about the two guitar discs, they seem nice enough but I am not too familiar with the music. The two consort discs I find a bit of a mixed bag. I am usually not the greatest fan of plucked instruments but I liked "broken consort" since I first heard a disc with the Baltimore Consort in the mid-1990s. There is some good stuff on these discs but as especially the first one (Vol. 6, LP "Elizabethan Music" above) must have been a rather pioneering effort, some tracks sound a bit too much like "lute concerts" instead of mixed consorts, and especially the flute is often more a coloring in the background. Nevertheless, this is mostly repertoire I have only a few or no recordings of, so overall a welcome addition.

« Last Edit: December 01, 2021, 09:29:34 AM by Jo498 »
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Bachtoven

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2021, 09:06:34 AM »
He is the reason I started playing classical in the late 70s after playing electric guitar for some 10 years, so he's long been special to me. I had the privilege of picking him up from the airport back in the 80s and spending some quality time with him including lunch, which was his treat! I don't think I've ever met a more charming person in my life. I think his contributions to the guitar repertoire are more significant than Segovia's since he commissioned works from more interesting and accomplished composers in my opinion. His memoir titled A Life on the Road is fascinating.

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2021, 01:51:47 PM »
He is the reason I started playing classical in the late 70s after playing electric guitar for some 10 years, so he's long been special to me. I had the privilege of picking him up from the airport back in the 80s and spending some quality time with him including lunch, which was his treat! I don't think I've ever met a more charming person in my life. I think his contributions to the guitar repertoire are more significant than Segovia's since he commissioned works from more interesting and accomplished composers in my opinion. His memoir titled A Life on the Road is fascinating.
What a special story! And what a lovely opportunity for you to talk and hopefully learn from him.  Not certain though, in my opinion, that it's fair to compare the two.  Segovia did bring us Bach for instance.   ;)

PD

Offline Bachtoven

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Re: Julian Bream Retrospective
« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2021, 03:08:44 PM »
What a special story! And what a lovely opportunity for you to talk and hopefully learn from him.  Not certain though, in my opinion, that it's fair to compare the two.  Segovia did bring us Bach for instance.   ;)

PD

Well, yes, that's true, and he helped to "legitimize" the guitar, but I wish he had inspired more adventurous composers. Torroba vs Sir Michael Tippett?  :)