Sean Shibe (guitar) Profesión Pentatone

Sean Shibe (guitar)
rec. 2023, Crichton Church, Scotland.
Reviewed as download from press preview
Pentatone PTC5187054 [62]

Sean Shibe (b. 1992) was born in Edinburgh and is of English and Japanese ancestry. He plays classical guitar and electric guitar and has in the last few years risen to stardom in both capacities. I have so far only encountered him as an accompanist, but this disc of 20th century Latin-American music was a grand ear opener for me. Dazzling technique can be taken for granted among present day guitarists – during almost twenty years of reviewing guitar recordings, I can’t remember a single disc that wasn’t up to the requirement in that respect. One or two may have lacked the last ounce of artistic depth or temperament, but the majority of them have been highly recommendable. It is a pity that so many music lovers still regard guitar music as second class, but since the record companies continue to issue discs in a steady stream they must sell sufficiently – to the benefit of the many guitar aficionados around. 

Of the three composers represented here, only Barrios Mangoré was a professional guitarist, but the versatile Villa-Lobos seems to have been proficient enough to take even the young Segovia to task on some technical matters. In Sean Shibe’s notes in the booklet there is a quite entertaining description of Villa-Lobos’ first encounter with Segovia. The latter obviously had a rather unsympathetic attitude to the composer, but in due time their relationship became less frosty; Segovia even commissioned a piece – which turned out to be the first of the 12 studies – since Villa-Lobos composed the full dozen with Segovia in mind and dedicated them to him. However, it took a long time before he ever played them – or rather, he never played the whole work, only a limited few, which he also recorded.

Segovia also met Barrios and was overwhelmed by the three-movement La catedral. He asked for a copy so he could play it in concert, and Barrios promised to send one, but for some reason that never happened, and by the time Segovia got one he had lost interest and never played anything by Barrios, saying that he was not a good composer. It seems that Segovia was capricious. 

The third of the composers, Alberto Ginastera, was much younger than the other two, and there is no evidence that he and Segovia ever met. Bearing in mind that Segovia took exception to modernism – he never asked Stravinsky to write for him, and never played Frank Martin’s Quatre Pièces Brèves dedicated to him – he most certainly wouldn’t have been interested in Ginastera’s Sonata, which is an uncompromisingly modernistic work from his late Neo-Expressionism period. It was composed in 1976 for Carlos Barbosa-Lima and revised twice. It is Ginastera’s only work for guitar. In spite of Villa-Lobos’ enormous productivity, his oeuvre for guitar fits neatly on a well-filled CD, while Naxos’ slowly progressing series with Barrios’ works reached volume 5 four years ago.

Ginastera’s Sonata is probably the least known item here. I have long admired his orchestral output, but I have also a recording of the sonata with eminent Swedish guitarist Celia Linde, which took me some time to come to terms with when I bought her disc some ten years ago. It is also the hardest nut to crack in this programme. Esardio is full of dissonances, which may discourage some first-time listeners. The scherzo, on the other hand, is playful and quite inviting, and the third movement, Canto, is a meditative resting-point, before the concluding finale: short, intensely rhythmical, motoric with some percussive effects. It is a real tour de force, and hesitant readers are advised to begin there for an appetizing sampler. 

The Villa-Lobos and Barrios works are firmly established in the standard repertoire, even though the 12 studies are seldom heard complete in recital. They require almost superhuman stamina – and I would say that for domestic listening they are best digested two or three at a time. The rather simple A-minor prelude, which is an homage to Bach, is a different matter. Bach’s music was one of his guiding stars, together with Brazilian folk music, and Sean Shibe plays the piece with classical simplicity. Overall, his playing is so convincing and sensitive, not least in Barrios’ solemn La catedral, one of my favourite guitar works – and just listen to how beautifully he plays Julia Florida. 

Lovers of guitar music should invest in this disc.

Göran Forsling

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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
1 Prelude No. 3 in A Minor (Homage to Bach) from 5 Preludes, W419, 
Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944)
La catedral
2 I. Preludio (Saudade)
3 II. Andante religioso
4 III. Allegro solemne
5 Julia Florida
Heitor Villa-Lobos
12 Studies, W235, A235
6 No. 1, Allegro non troppo 
7 No. 2, Allegro 
8 No. 3, Allegro moderato
9 No. 4, Un peu modéré 
10 No. 5, Andantino
11 No. 6, Poco allegro
12 No. 7, Tres animé
13 No. 8, Modéré – Lent
14 No. 9, Très peu animé
15 No. 10, Très animé [ME-1953]
16 No. 11, Lent
17 No. 12, Animé
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Sonata, Op. 47
18 I. Esordio
19 II. Scherzo
20 III. Canto
21 IV. Finale