The greatest classical guitarist of the twentieth century died today. I reviewed one of his New York solo recitals for the Daily News back in the Nineties, and have never forgotten how wonderful it was. Here’s part of what I wrote.
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Julian Bream, who gave a recital Tuesday at Alice Tully Hall, made his professional debut a half-century ago. When he started out, guitar recitals consisted of fluff: second-rate Spanish pieces, miscellaneous arrangements and transcriptions, encore-type lollipops. Today, classical guitarists have a huge repertoire of challenging music on which to draw, much of it—including most of the best of it—either discovered or commissioned by Bream. No one since Andres Segovia has had so powerful an influence on guitar playing, and no one has played the guitar better.
Though Bream’s technique is no longer what it used to be, he remains a master interpreter, as well as an unsurpassed musical communicator. He offered a characteristic program Tuesday: suites by Bach and Visee, striking new works by Leo Brouwer and Toru Takemitsu (the first commissioned by Bream, the second dedicated to him), Isaac Albeniz’ ever-popular “Suite Espanola.” He chatted with the audience between pieces, introducing each one simply and memorably. And—most important—he played with a range of tone color and expressivity unrivaled by any other guitarist in the world….
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Julian Bream plays the closing “Passacaglia” from Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal, which he commissioned, premiered, and recorded: