Julian Bream - My Life in Music
With this film, made in 2003 when the guitarist was 70 and had recently retired from the concert platform, Bream and director Paul Balmer have produced what is likely to be two (three if you include the generous extras) of the most enjoyable hours you'll spend in front of a television set.
Bream is so relaxed and engaging you almost feel you're invited to tea chez Uncle Julian. He looks back over his life as one of the supreme masters of the classical guitar and Renaissance lute: early training with his father that included jamming with a dance band from behind a curtain; encountering amateur guitarists at the Philharmonic Society of Guitarists and thinking them afflicted with St Vitus's dance (so alien was the concept of performance nerves to the youthful Bream); meeting Benjamin Britten for the first time when the composer leapt from a front-row seat to replace some music that had been blown from Bream's stand - all these stories, and so many more, are related with humour and humanity.
Illustrating and enlivening the reminiscences is footage from BBC Monitor programmes and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's archives: choice moments include Bream (on lute and with cigarettes close to hand) recording Vivaldi with harpsichordist George Malcolm; accompanying Peter Pears in Dowland's Fine Knacks for Ladies; and wielding his lute before a hapless Stravinsky. Other performances and excerpts come from the documentaries A Life in the Country, The Five Faces of the Guitar and the splendid history of the guitar in Spain, ¡Guitarra! (8/06).
Bream's favourite poem is Cavafy's Ithaca and it's not hard to see why: it chimes with his delighting in the moment and its manifold possibilities, borne out by his admiration for the work of great improvisers such as Django Reinhardt and the sarod player Ali Akbar Khan (seen jamming with Bream).
It's also borne out by Bream's playing. Cecil Day-Lewis's widow Jill Balcon (who recites Ithaca in a bonus chapter) tells how she was so absorbed by the performance Bream gave at her husband's funeral that she completely forgot it was the worst day of her life. The beautiful, elegiac first and last movements of Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland (which, like the atmospheric shots of the countryside near Bream's home and the Snape marshes, provide a frame and a reference-point for the film), and Falla's Homenaje: pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy, show that Bream has lost none of the intense, searching musicality that has so characterised his playing through the decades