Music Reviews : Julian Bream Opens Guitar Series

Julian Bream has enjoyed a long, successful career as one of the world’s most popular classical guitarists, but is he still capable of surprising his audience?

Wednesday night at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, he proved that he was. Opening the Ambassador’s 1988-89 guitar series, Bream, now 55, not only performed with his usual mastery of nuance and delicacy but opened doors in the second half of the program with three relatively challenging works from the 20th Century.

In Witold Lutoslawski’s “Melodie Ludowe"(1945)--originally for piano and transcribed by Bream at the behest of the composer--twelve programmatic pieces filled with pastoral images of Poland were set with a tastefully chosen array of effects in what would otherwise be a routine intermediate work. Bream allowed the simple, modal tunes to sing with insight and occasional humor.

Two other 20th Century works--Toru Takemitsu’s impressionistic “All in Twilight"(1987) and the quirky Spanish extravaganza “Tres Piezas Espanolas"(1954) by Joaquin Rodrigo--made use of harmonics and striking dissonances revealing remarkable versatility in Bream’s virtuosity.


Bream’s transcription of Bach’s Sonata in G minor for solo violin found few problems and was predictably the biggest crowd-pleaser. Less successful was Giulio Regondi’s Introduction and Caprice, in which lush romantic passages that should have soared with Paganini-like virtuosity and difficult chromaticism were given only cursory attention, as Bream generally lacked the aggressiveness required with such music.

The evening opened with a light, polished account of Robert de Visee’s Suite in A major. A Mazurka by Villa-Lobos was played with fitting charm and simplicity in encore.