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Julian Bream - My Life in Music

Avie (DVD Video) - AV2109 (£17.49)

Julian Bream's My Life in Music is a marvellous sequel to his autobiography Julian Bream: A Life on the Road (Tony Palmer, 1983), one of my two favourite books about musicians and their lives (the other is Susan Tomes' Beyond the Notes - 2004).

In Palmer's book, Julian Bream is allowed to speak for himself in his inimitable way, and clearly this was a gift for the DVD age, seized brilliantly by a team led by director Paul Balmer.

Before reading on, and for (fairly) full details, please follow this link to Music on Earth Productions http://www.musiconearth.co.uk/bream/index.htm

In short, this DVD is a top "must buy" for all guitarists (and not only classical guitarists) for its unique story of a pioneering mission which complements Opus Arte's Andrés Segovia - In Portrait http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd/SegoviaPortrait.htm

It will delight everyone interested in the vicissitudes of musical careers and makes for is wholly absorbing viewing, Julian Bream at 70 caught at just the right time, soon after he retired from concert life. What stands out is Bream's single minded determination, ever since soon after the War when as a small boy at the great man's reappearance in London young Julian sat throughout the concert riveted to watching Segovia's hands through his binoculars. There are numerous anecdotes illustrating his amiable chutzpa and willingness to try anything towards his goal.

It is also a story of a marvellous learning together of father and son before professional teachers became involved. It will be hard to believe in the complete absence of the classical guitar and its music from English musical life and teaching establishments before the revolution single-handedly achieved by this great musician, who stormed the bastions of academe and the BBC, opening doors to a future in which the guitar is amongst the most popular of all instruments.

Julian Bream's legacy is a seat of guitar tuition at every conservatoire and a huge and ever increasing repertoire of music from great composers, British and international, featured here in the generous (mostly complete) music examples; there is also testimony to his role in bringing the lute to wider audiences in the first stages of the Early Music movement, seen here singing with Peter Pears and in clips of his Broken Consort.

I do have personal reservations, but they are trivial taken in context, and no-one must be put off by them. Mostly they are technical.

Navigation of the sections and chapters is not immediately easy, and some of the art work is unduly fussy. (Is it not time for DVD producers to establish a norm for swift, unambiguous progress to Chapters of choice etc? With this, and some other DVDs, one find oneself repeatedly returning via Main Menu to arrive where one wants to be.) Alternative camera angles provided will be appreciated by players, but access to them is unavailable on my DVD recorder/player.

The narration is broken up into sections, with some of surely the most interesting of them for everyone inexplicably relegated to 'bonus chapters', e.g. how Julian recovered from his near tragic car accident; "Sneaking my guitar into the Royal College of Music". One chapter (in the main section) about an abortive meeting with Stravinsky is frankly embarrassing and would better have been left out altogether. Jill Balcon's enconium with her reading of a poem might better have been shortened in the editing. The suffusion of Julian Bream's hands and bald head in blue light for Britten's Nocturnal was an error of judgment.

Over three hours of material on this generously filled DVD includes invaluable appendices such as bibliography, discography and research notes, with extra clips from earlier filmings, and a first commercial release of R R Bennett's substantial guitar sonata, enough to occupy the purchaser for several days. I have not found, however, dates of the archive music clips and their venues.

Despite his concentration upon classical repertoire, Julian Bream shows appreciation of the whole indivisible world of plucked intruments, movingly illustrated in his reverence for the great sarodist Ali Akbar Khan. I shall often return to this DVD and Bream's admiration of Django Reinhardt amongst his earliest influences prompts me to explore Music on Earth's previous DVD Stéphane Grappelli: A Life in the Jazz Century, with contributors from Yehudi Menuhin, Nigel Kennedy et al and all known film footage of Django Reinhardt.

Whatever your special musical interests, I cannot imagine anyone failing to relish this treasurable and very reasonably priced project, in which there is no stilted and artificial interviewing and Julian Bream is allowed to be his ebullient self.

Peter Grahame Woolf