Julian Bream is the classical guitarist who inspired a generation of 20th-century composers to look seriously at the instrument. Now 82, he no longer performs, but his trust still commissions new work and supports those who might play it – young guitarists such as Laura Snowden, who here held the Wigmore Hall rapt with a performance of unassuming poise and intensity.
The latest composer to be commissioned by the Julian Bream Trust is Julian Anderson, whose Catalan Peasant With Guitar is inspired by the painting by Joan Miro. The painting is fierce, sparse, bright blue. Anderson recreates the impact of a first glance at it with an arresting slow volley of single notes at the opening. Thereafter the music, like the painting, has depths of nuance that reveal themselves behind the brightness. A defining feature is that some of the strings get retuned during the performance. Loosening one string by a quarter-tone meant that Snowden’s instrument acquired a new, darker resonance; returning the string to its original pitch brought the guitar back to a newly noticed brightness. Some retunings were slickly done, in one twist, while others held the music up slightly; on balance, it was worth it for the intriguing shifts in colour.
Anderson’s piece was written for Snowden; much of the rest of her programme had been written for Bream, including Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, which in Snowden’s performance sounded every bit a masterpiece. Late in the piece, Britten lets us hear the Dowland song the work is based on in its entirety, and Snowden’s poignantly sweet playing made this episode genuinely moving.
Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina and Frank Martin’s Quatre Pièces Brèves were vividly coloured. Three short pieces by Gerhard, Falla and Roussel slotted together perfectly into a sonata-like three-piece suite. Finally, Mompou’s Suite Compostelana, inspired by Galicia, found Snowden conjuring a mesmerising stillness in the slow movements, before ending with a toe-tapping jig.