Although only Bennett's title indicates the use of a smaller orchestra, all three of these works do well when the accompaniments are kept to intimate proportions. These recordings span a period of 13 years. Nevertheless, they demonstrate the consistency of the Melos Ensemble as one of England's finest chamber groups.
They also demonstrate the consistency of Bream's artistry. I have heard his later recordings of the concertos by Arnold and Rodrigo, and while they have an added depth (thanks, perhaps to more expansive tempos), these earlier versions are no less accomplished. In fact, they will be preferable for those who prefer a more simple approach to the music. In particular, the middle movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez has been emotionally pumped-up by almost every performer over the years, and it is good to hear it done with restraint, as is the case here. And, it also is good to hear Arnold conducting his own guitar concerto. This work is one of his best, and the bluesy middle movement, a tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, could take on a life of its own, if it were given a chance.
A word or two about Richard Rodney Bennett's 20-minute concerto seems in order, because it is by far the least popular of the three. It doesn't play to the galleries, but it speaks in a piquant voice that can be understood (and enjoyed) by anyone who wishes to put a little effort into it. There's no need to be scared by its predominantly non-tonal language because its bright colors and appealing, shifting moods compensate for the lack of a take-home tune.Think of this as a guitar concerto for butterfly collectors.
This is Volume 15 from the Julian Bream Edition, and if the entire edition is outside of your interests (or financial viability), this individual release can be recommended just as strongly.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle