The Guitar in Spain: "Guitarra"
The frontiers of the guitar are now far wider than those of Iberia, as they have been since the earliest times, but the important contribution of Spain to its history (rather than to its present) cannot be doubted. Julian Bream feels this strongly enough to have sired an eight-part television series on the subject (Channel 4), in which he plays the music contained in the album—bearing the same name as the series. Divorced from the 'travelogue' visual aspects of the programmes, the music presents an aural survey of the guitar's Spanish history. The term 'guitar' is generic rather than specific and it can lead the unwary into hazardous minefields, for our ancestors were less caring about nomenclature than we are. Bream has wisely elected to trace the development of the instrument, as closely as possible, through both musical text and actual sound, playing reproductions of related early 'guitars' instead of merely offering the notes on today's instrument.
The earliest form, the small 'renaissance' guitar with four pairs of strings, has a highly developed fantasia by Mudarra (No. XIV), the oldest 'guitar' music known. The vihuela, guitar-shaped and with six pairs of strings, was embraced by cultivated renaissance Spaniards, rather than the lute with its unwelcome Moorish associations: music by Mudarra, Milan and Narvaez demonstrates its sound. When the guitar acquired a fifth pair of strings (the 'baroque' guitar) it changed radically in sound and repertory, the old fantasias and dance forms giving way to pieces based on popular songs and dances, but the variation principle remained dominant, particularly in Spain—here, the music of Sanz and the more sober-minded Guerau. The transition to the guitar of six single strings came as the eighteenth century closed and the 'baroque' guitar and its music fell out of use. From that point on, the album traces the development of Spanish guitar music from Boccherini (the famous Fandango, rearranged as a Bream/Bream guitar duet) through to Rodrigo (no prize for guessing what). All this is materially assisted by the liberal annotation provided by Bream himself.
Bream never plays anything out of sense of duty; he must first fall in love with the music, and when he does he 'identifies' with it in a way that sets him apart from other great guitarists. Americans would say that he 'gives everything his best shot'—and his aim is so good that although there are alternative ways of treating each piece one does not feel the need for them. Shrewd planning, informative presentation, marvellous performances and the best sound a non-Compact Disc can offer, make this an important benchmark in the history of the guitar on record—and one cannot imagine who else could have made it.'