Though Bream has long been one of my favorite guitarists, his concerto recordings have been a hit-or-miss affair. But when he's on, he's incomparable. His 1959 premiere recording of the Malcolm Arnold Concerto, which he commissioned, is a jewel. The Melos Ensemble, conducted by the composer, does outstanding work--clearly they enjoyed what they were playing. Bream gives a youthful and intense performance. With playing like this, it's no wonder that throughout his career Bream was able to coax so many new guitar works from so many composers. The Arnold Concerto is a bit of a bon-bon, but a delightfully well-crafted one. Arnold always had a knack for melody. (He was, remember, the author of the infectious tune from the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai.") And the slow movement, a tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, has a surprisingly eerie heft. The only demerit against this recording is that the guitar is too quietly balanced against the orchestra. Be prepared to crank up the volume to make the guitar audible.
Of the other two concertos on this CD, the Aranjuez fares best. The Bennett Concerto is a murky slog that wears out its welcome long before it's over. But the Arnold is good enough to compensate for the dead weight of the Bennett.
As with many of Bream's great recordings, RCA has allowed the Arnold premiere to fall out of production. (Be sure you don't mistake this for Bream's 1993 recording of the Arnold, which is nowhere near the class of his 1959 recording.) When it does surface on Amazon, it's usually priced at a king's ransom. But if you ever find it for a reasonable price, grab it. The Arnold Concerto premiere is one of those glowing recordings that make life just a wee bit better.