Sean Shine Profesión Pentatone

Sean Shibe (guitar)
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Prelude No. 3 in A Minor
Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944)
La catedral
Julia Florida
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
12 Études
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Sonata, Op. 47
rec. 2023, Crichton Church, UK
Pentatone PTC5187054 [62]

The first thing one notices about this album is its unusually resonant sound. With each album Shibe seems to be moving the microphones farther back. There is a wide aural space with a lot of natural reverb (without being excessive), which both brings out the diaphanous beauty of Shibe’s daring pianissimos and amplifies the power of his strongest playing. Shibe is following the tradition of those who treat recording as an art in itself, related to but nevertheless distinct from performance – what cinema is to theatre.

Shibe is capable of great shades of colour and dynamics. His musical imagination makes you forget how well-worn is Barrios’s La Catedral. The melodic expressiveness of the first two movements was superb, and I’ve never heard the fast, Bachian final movement sounding more legato and resonant. His interpretations are always brimming with interesting ideas. Take the way he begins the first Villa-Lobos study at a whisper – the rapid notes of the arpeggio sounding like a distant stream. Shibe has this extraordinary ability, also demonstrated in the final movement of La Catedral, to make notes in rapid arpeggios lose their usually-strong percussive attack and flow together beautifully.

Villa-Lobos’s 12 Études really come alive when the seventh arrives: a gorgeous piece that opens up a vibrant imaginative world that continues until the twelve study. (Even Shibe’s playing can’t shake some of my reservations about the first six Villa-Lobos studies: they are great studies but, for the most part, boring music.) Shibe’s versions of the last six studies are quickly becoming my favourites. I have never heard any player make the ornaments in the ninth and tenth studies dance so gracefully; usually they sound rather laboured, on account of their being so devilishly difficult. Throughout these studies Shibe’s gives some of his most exuberant and joyous playing yet.

You couldn’t ask for a more commanding performance of the Ginastera sonata, yet still I can’t seem to enjoy the work. In the booklet notes Shibe writes that ‘the fantastical sonic approach … is an encyclopaedia of extended effects’. I like a lot of Ginastera’s other music, but this exploration of effect just wears me down. The sonata is full of Bartok pizzicato, plucking behind the nut, hitting the instrument, rasgueado, glissandi, harmonics, and so on. It is all cleverly and purposefully done, but to my ears it is a series of guitaristic gestures without much music. Others will strongly disagree, and they will find much to love about Shibe’s strong, characterful performance of the work.

Steven Watson

Previous review: Göran Forsling (January 2024)

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