The list of distinguished artists on Decca's The #1 Guitar Album
reads like a Who's-Who of classical guitarists, and this 2008 double-disc compilation matches that roster with a highly varied program full of the best-known pieces and arrangements for the instrument. Whether it's Andrés Segovia offering selections from J.S. Bach
's celebrated works, Julian Bream
playing miniatures by Sor
, or Göran Söllscher drawing on the Lennon
songbook, the performances are first-rate across the board, and fans of classical, Spanish, and popular acoustic guitar music will find the levels of technique and expression to be exceptional throughout. If there is a single flaw here, it lies in the great variability of sound quality, which changes at practically every track and challenges the listener to find a suitable volume level. Segovia's are the oldest analog recordings, dating from 1952, and the sound is noticeably weaker than, say, Söllscher's, which date from 2005 at the latest and have the fullest tone and clearest details. Weakest of all is the 1958 mono recording of Sor's "Variations on a Theme by Mozart," played by John Williams
at age 17, which is almost inaudible at its beginning. However, this is not to say that the older recordings are hard to appreciate, for they still display great musicianship and have historical value, if not necessarily the presence and clarity of the later performances. But if this album is played as relaxing background music, keep the remote control handy.