15 Essential Classical Guitar Recordings. Listed by Jeff Dwarshuis
#1 Julian Bream plays Granados and Albeniz
In 1983 when this recording was released, Julian Bream had already established himself as one of the greatest guitarist of all time. He had a massive output of recorded music; (over 40 recordings) had revived Renaissance Music through his Julian Bream Consort and exposure of John Dowland’s solo lute works, had introduced the listening world to the works of contemporary composers, expanded the guitar repertoire by requesting compositions from famous composers and toured constantly.
“Julian Bream plays Granados and Albeniz” came at a time that it seemed Bream had already done it all so – he revisited guitar standards. The music was not new. Originally all of this music was written for piano so it had years of attention before anyone used the music for the guitar. Also, many guitarists had recorded these works by the 1980s. In fact, Bream himself had recorded many of these pieces for his earlier recordings. What makes this recording so outstanding is that every part of it is seasoned. Bream seems to have labored over every phrase making sure there was no loss in projecting the passion of Spanish melody.
The sound of this recording is outstanding. It represents a time Bream was in charge of the recording process having brought engineers and equipment to a choice church sanctuary near his English home.
#2 The Guitarist by John Williams
Inspired by the timeless modal harmony of Medieval and Mediterranean cultures “The Guitarist” by John Williams stands out as being one of the greatest recordings for the classical guitar. Consistent with John Williams, his selection of material is new to the repertoire and combined with a performance so exceptional “The Guitarist” has impacted a generation of players. Included composers are Satie, Theodorakis and Domeniconi as well as William’s own writing contributions. This recording starts and ends in one breath and every part of it is outstanding.
#3 The Ultimate Guitar Collection Vol. 2 by Julian Bream
Following the release of Julian Bream’s box set, this massive catalogue of music was packaged and repackaged with a variety of results – most all of them very good. The Ultimate Guitar Collection Vol. 2 is one such recording and has Julian Bream at his best. This recording includes works from time periods of Renaissance to Contemporary and the choices of selection for the recording are superb. The listener will experience one of the greatest guitarists of our time playing some of the best pieces of the classical guitar repertoire.
#4 Heitor Villa-Lobos – Complete Works for Solo Guitar by Frederic Zigante
This recording includes all guitar works by Villa – Lobos …the 12 Etudes, the 5 Preludes, Choros, the 5 piece suite and two added pieces called “Simples” and the 1928 version of the 10th etude. The works were written to be heard in their respective groups and Zigante approaches the pieces with this in mind as the recording presents itself as one consistent and focused expression. This is THE definitive recording for the Villa – Lobos guitar works.
#5 20th Century Guitar by Julian Bream
When this recording was released in 1967 listeners of the classical guitar were accustomed to hearing the sounds of Spain, Bach and the Renaissance. “20th Century Guitar” was different. The music, both abstract and beautiful, was written by living composers and many written for Bream himself. The recording includes Benjamin Britten’s famous “Nocturnal” said by Bream to be one of the greatest pieces ever written for the guitar.
#6 From the Jungles of Paraguay – John Williams plays Barrios
It is AMAZING to think that before the recording was released very few people (including guitarists) had heard of Agustin Barrios. Today, because of John William’s influence, Barrios’ music is well known, published by many sources and is frequently included in guitarists’ programs. This recording is an essential part of a collection because of its influence, John Williams incredible playing and the exposure to a new direction and virtuosity for the classical guitar.
#7 Sor : Guitar Music Opp 26-30 by Jeffrey McFadden
This collection of music of Fernando Sor is a must have by any collector or interested listener. McFadden’s playing seems to tell the listener that not only was Sor a great composer but he was also an incredible player. Listening to the Twelve Etudes one is left with the impression that Sor was breaking new ground for the guitar and that the possibilities for the guitar were expanding. Also included are major works, most of them relatively unknown but still highly significant in the body of Sor’s works
#8 Fernando Sor : Guitar Music by Eduardo Fernandez
Eduardo Fernandez brings a fresh approach to the music of Fernando Sor. His performance is clean and refined with a sense of determination that pulls the listener in to his interpretations. Listeners will also experience Fernandez’s embracing of the Classical Period with his accent of beautiful melodies, charm and composition.
#9 Ponce – Guitar Music: Complete Variations, 24 Preludes by Stephen Marchionda
At the suggestion of Andres Segovia, composer Manuel Ponce wrote a great deal of music for the classical guitar. This recording is a wonderful collection of Ponce’s contributions. It begins with the 25 minute “Variations on Folia De Espana and Fugue” through all 24 Preludes and more. Marchianda’s playing is exciting, crisp and entertaining. This is a fantastic recording for both the active performer as well as the newly interested listener of classical guitar.
#10 Guitar Recital by Dejan Ivanovic
Guitar Recital by Dejan Ivanovic is an INCREDIBLE collection of contemporary works for the classical guitar. Ivanovic’s playing is intense and fitting for these challenging pieces. Listeners should allow a generous amount of time for exposure as these works are often times as abstract as they are beautiful and in the end – will take your mind and experience to a different place.
#11 Barrios – Complete Music for Solo Guitar by Cristiano Porqueddu
This is a six CD box set of the complete (known) guitar works of Agustin Barrios Mangore. This is an incredible set of music with all pieces placed in alphabetical order and beautifully performed. For the guitarist, this set of music lines up nearly perfectly with Richard Stover’s music collection of Barrios scores called “The Complete Works of Agustin Barrios Mangore Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
#12 Guitar Concertos – Vivaldi, Castelnuovo – Tedesco, Villa – Lobos by Marcos Tsessos.
This is a “hidden gem” of the guitar concertos. Tsessos playing is fantastic and enjoyable. Tedesco’s Concerto #1 is beautiful and entertaining.
#13 Victor Villadangos – Guitar Music of Argentina
Wonderful, fresh and entertaining – Victor Villadangos offers a great collection with a unique approach to his sound.
#14 Frederic Zigante – Musica Espanola
Thoughtful, determined, well crafted – Zigante does his usual effort of providing an extensive and tasteful representation of each composer.
#15 – Christopher Parkening Plays Bach
Smooth, refined, gentle and beautiful. Parkening’s touch seems to be made for the music of Bach.