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Recommended Recordings

Recommended Classical Guitar Recordings

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Barrueco Manuel Barrueco: 300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces—VoxBox CD3X 3007

This three CD collection is a reissue of Cuban born virtuoso Manuel Barruecos early Vox LPs, recorded in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Included in this set is his stunning performance of selections by Spanish composers Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados. This 1978 Albéniz/Granados recording is perhaps the greatest example of what I call the cool school of guitar playing, eschewing color and warmth in favor of restraint, taste, and note perfect execution. One complaint: in this reissue VoxBox inexplicably spread the Albéniz/Granados selections over three CDs.

Russell David Russell: Francisco Tárrega, Integral de Guitarra—Opera tres CDS 1003/4

Scottish guitarist David Russell spent much of his childhood in Spain, speaks fluent Spanish, and married a Spaniard. So he brings a deep understanding and affection to the music of late 19th century guitar virtuoso Francisco Tárrega. Add to this his supple phrasing and gorgeous tone—lovingly captured by recording engineer John Taylor, himself a guitarist—and you have a recording that shows off guitar playing at its finest.

Smits Raphaëlla Smits: Early 19th Century Guitar Music—Accent ACC 21146

Belgium born guitarist Raphaëlla Smits has a deep interest in the guitars 19th century repertoire. In this recording she performs on a French guitar from about 1820, restored by the German luthier Bernhard Kresse. The music highlights two abiding interests of early 19th century composers: the concert etude and the song. The solo guitar arrangements of six Schubert lieder are breathtakingly beautiful, and Smits brings an operatic intensity to Luigi Legnanis Capricci. This may be the finest available recording of music performed on an original 19th century guitar.

Bream1 Julian Bream: Twentieth Century Guitar I—BMG Classics 09026-61595-2

Born in London in 1933, Julian Bream recently retired from actively touring and performing. This CD is a reissue of landmark recordings made for RCA between 1959-73. During this time, few guitarists were more compelling champions of new music than Bream. All the music in this CD is today firmly established within the standard guitar repertoire. Included is the world premiere of Benjamin Brittens Nocturnal—now regarded as one of the greatest works written for the guitar during the 20th century. Breams performance, of course, is a historical landmark.

LAGQ Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: El Amor Brujo—GHA 126.001

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet began in 1980 as a student quartet at the University of Southern California. Still going strong today, its the worlds best known and most successful guitar ensemble. This 1987 recording showcases the quartets rhythmically taut and vivid style. It also features the original members of the quartet not long after it was formed. Since then, this quartet has gone on to release over a dozen recordings and has toured to high acclaim throughout the world.

Romero Pepe Romero & Academy Chamber Ensemble: Boccherini Guitar Quintets—Philips 38769

Pepe Romero teams up with members from the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra. Though originally released in the late 1970s, this is still the best recording of Luigi Boccherinis guitar quintets. The playing is first rate, and the balance between guitar and strings is just right. (In most such recordings the guitar is either inaudible or unnaturally bloated.) Personally Im not fond of all Boccherinis guitar quintets—one critic grumped that theyre more fun to play than to hear. But No. 4 with its famous Fandango and No. 9 La Ritirata di Madrid are delightful.

Vieaux Jason Vieaux: Manuel Ponce, The Guitar Sonatas—Azica ACD-71212

When I first started listening to classical guitar, Julian Bream was the one artist who, if he released a new recording, I would buy it without hesitation. With Bream in retirement, my current must buy artist is Jason Vieaux. Its difficult to choose between his many fine recordings, but a particular favorite of mine is his 2001 release of Mexican composer Manuel Ponces guitar sonatas. And dont be put off by the idea of a CD entirely devoted to one composer. Two of Ponces guitar sonatas are homages to other composers—Fernando Sor and Franz Schubert—and Ponce wrote the sonatas in the style of these composers. (In fact, he was so successful at composing in other styles that some of his music in the baroque style was for many years misattributed to 18th century composers.)

Holmquist John Holmquist: Las Folias de España—Cavata CV 5001

This recording is a sort of golden fleece inclusion. Released only as a vinyl LP, its long been unavailable, and Cavata Music Publishers is no longer in business. In fact, its unlikely that youll ever come across a copy. But if you do, buy it. This is a stunning recording by underrated guitarist John Holmquist shortly after he won the 1978 Toronto International Competition. Youll never hear the guitar played with greater vibrancy, depth, and intelligence. The five minute performance of Louis Couperins Tombeau de Mr. Blancrocher is sublime, and Ponces Variations & Fugue on Las Folias de España far surpasses recordings by more famous guitarists. That Holmquist faded from view almost unnoticed is a terrible loss to the classical guitar world.

Bream2 Julian Bream: Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar—RCA 88697046062

Recorded in 1962, Bream is in his prime, playing with a passion and flair that no one has surpassed. This CD reminds us of how, in the right hands, the guitar has a voice that no other instrument can match. Too often today the guitar is played as though its a second rate piano, eschewing the supple shaping of sound for which stringed instruments are uniquely suited. Bream in this recording will have none of this. His approach is unabashedly sensual and prismatic. This is arguably the greatest single classical guitar recording ever made. While other recordings can claim more historical significance—for example, those that premiere important new works—none before or since has better showcased guitar playing at its absolute best.

VieauxBach Jason Vieaux: J. S. Bach, Vol. I, Works for Lute—ACD-71250

Everything about this recording conveys Vieauxs devotion to Bachs music. His technique is impeccable, but that doesnt begin to convey the care that he puts into making each line unfold with grace. One listens in vain for any hint of awkwardness or strain, belying the challenge of making multi-voiced music work on the guitar. Further, Vieaux isnt afraid to sing—hes no advocate of sterile Bach, so prevalent among many guitarists today. There are personal touches. Vieaux tends to ornament by rewriting passages rather than pasting little decorative flourishes here and there. But his changes are always tasteful and reserved. Its also clear that Vieaux conceived of this recording as a continuous arc of music. In fact, the three parts of the Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro (BWV 998) are performed attacca. Its a reminder that perhaps Vieauxs greatest strength as a musician is his sense of architecture, something seldom mentioned in reviews of his recordings.

Obsession Krystin O’Mara: Obsession—Bluepoint Studios 888295017114

Heres another recording thats not well known, but should be. This has it all: two premiere recordings of worthy additions to the guitar repertoire, passionate and intelligent playing, a rich tonal palette, and intriguing programming. OMaras style might be disturbing to some—she challenges rather than soothes, as you may surmise from the forthright cover photo. Hers is a unique voice that commands attention. To see if you agree, follow the above link to the sound samples on Amazon. To hear a complete performance of the title work of this CD, click here to visit the composers website.

BreamDVD Julian Bream: My Life In Music—(DVD) Music On Earth

This 195 minute documentary traces the life and career of perhaps the greatest classical guitarist of the 20th century. Like his playing, Bream himself is colorful and engaging, and this biography is packed with wonderful vignettes. My favorite is an impromptu meeting in which the young Bream tries to coax an obviously reluctant Igor Stravinsky into writing something for him.

CompleteBream Julian Bream: The Complete Album Collection—RCA 88725462422

If youre looking for something more substantial, the complete Julian Bream boxed set is just the thing. This 40 CD set, issued in 2013 to coincide with Breams 80th birthday, has all his albums released by RCA between 1960 and 1991. Included is a hardbound book with a brief bio and detailed program listings of all the recordings. Also included are two DVD disks that contain concert footage of Bream in his prime, a BBC documentary about Bream, and a 1972 television interview. Watching these vintage broadcasts gives a sense of the man behind the music. Its easy to see why he was such a compelling player. One senses that the man was incapable of being bored, such is the passion he brought to everything he did. If youve the perception to hear a keen mind and heart at work, youll be richly rewarded.

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