Guitarra! - (The) Guitar in Spain
Twenty years on, the eight-part series ¡Guitarra! remains a landmark in films about music. The repertoire ranges from pieces for the vihuela of the Spanish Renaissance by Milán, Narváez and Mudarra, to those for the guitar as we know it today by Falla, Torroba, Ohana and, of course, Rodrigo. In between are works by composers including Sanz, Sor, Tárrega, Granados and Albéniz – not to forget a substantial contribution by flamenco artists headed by Paco Peña. The early instruments which Julian Bream uses were built especially for the series by luthier José Romanillos.
The astonishingly picturesque settings in which Bream performs include courtyard gardens adorned by fountains, richly furnished drawing rooms (their walls adorned with oil paintings and tapestries), church naves (Seville Cathedral), prayer halls (the Great Mosque of Cordoba), fishing boats and lofty castles (the Alhambra in Granada). All are linked by a flowing historical narrative, Lorca’s poetry and the use of archaic images (whether oil paintings by masters such as El Greco, Velázquez and Goya or printed manuscripts) in conjunction with scenes of daily life from contemporary Spain.
In this dreamlike world (which begins to take on the aspect of a singular, multi-faceted entity, despite the lunges through time) Bream is completely at home, though this is a Spain which for him seems almost a projection of the music he knows so well rather than the other way around. With his wilfully anachronistic approach to playing the historical instruments, a colourful, improvisatory approach to interpretation and an engaging if eccentric screen presence, he is musical flâneur and avuncular guide all in one.
Highlights include lively performances of Mudarra’s Fantasia No 10 (vihuela) and Sanz’s Cararios (Baroque guitar); Boccherini’s Fandango transcribed for two guitars (in which Bream accompanies himself on-screen – great fun); Sor’s Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Granados’s Spanish Dance No 5; and Albéniz’s Sevilla. Also worth mentioning is a darkly dramatic reading of Falla’s Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy and the spectacular finale to the series (in which Bream is joined by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Charles Groves): Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.
Packaging and booklet-notes are excellent; the recorded sound, since most of it was recorded in Bream’s acoustic of choice, Wardour Chapel, is good, although some may find it overly reverberant. ¡Guitarra! is a brilliant tribute to Spanish culture and one of its greatest emissaries.