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Craig Ogden Julian Bream recital, January 22, 2022

IN MEMORIAM JULIAN BREAM

Craig Ogden at Bromsgrove School *****

No question, Julian Bream was this country's greatest guitarist. He elevated this humble supporting accessory into an estimable instrument in its own right, exploring the repertoire not just from the Spanish staples, but back right through to the riches of the English lutenists as well as commissioning works from every one of our greatest composers. Many of those from both periods were represented in this triumphant recital promoted in Bream's memory by Bromsgrove Concerts with the aid of the RVW Trust in that composer's sesquicentenary year, and given by Bromsgrove favourite Craig Ogden, who admitted to us how listening to Bream had inspired him in so much of his own work.

Ogden brought two guitars, one reflecting the tuning of the ancient lute (as he so illuminatingly explained and illustrated), the other, "normal" one set up as usual for the Bream-commissioned contemporary works. Shakespeare's colleague Robert Johnson was represented by his Almain, Ogden deftly bringing out the antiphony of its almost-vocal lines. And from Johnson's great contemporary John Dowland we heard an atmospheric, almost improvisatory Praeludium, a Fantasia no.7 which was a roller-coaster of lute technique, and all the cadential flourishes of the Lachrimae Pavan, to be glorified over three centuries later by Benjamin Britten, whose other homage to Dowland concluded this evening's programme. From Bream's contemporary commissions, we began with the flowingly lyrical Sonatina by Lennox Berkeley, quintessentially English and Gallic elements, and with more than a hint of flamenco.

Walton's Five Bagatelles, so idiomatically textured under the eagle eye of Bream himself, were a joy of bittersweet, rapt delicacy, sometimes Satie-esque, ending with the final movement's cumulative energy. Very different were the musings of Richard Rodney Bennett's Five Impromptus (serial in technique, but so listener-friendly), fascinating in their characterisations, and so adeptly delivered by Ogden.

Finally came the masterpiece which is Britten's Nocturnal, built upon the structural template of his much earlier Les Illuminations and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, various genre-movements gradually moving towards a characteristic Passacaglia (one of Britten's favourite forms) in which the insistent descending scale built in intensity towards an eventual statement of Dowland's "Come , heavy Sleep". So many of Britten's works are sleep-derived: the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the Nocturne, even his fantastic Midsummer Night's Dream Opera. Here in the Nocturnal he dreamed back across the centuries to his great predecessor, John Dowland.

Christopher Morley