“For the second of the three Northern Chords concerts, it was a first appearance at Baltic for the chamber music festival.
And what a fine venue it proved to be, with good sound, clear sightlines and comfortable chairs.
Since its inception nine years ago, founding artistic director Jonathan Bloxham has consistently brought together some of classical music’s best new talent and this year was no exception.
Here was a classic two-hander featuring New Zealand-born Ben Baker, one of last year’s stars, and, for the first time, young Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe.
They shared the repertoire with duets and a solo for each.
Baker started with Bach’s Sonata No. 3 for solo violin with its second movement in particular played with clarity and finesse.
From 300 years ago we were then brought up to the present day with the premiere of Jack Sheen’s meditative homage to choreographer Yvonne Rainer, performed by violin and guitar and with a background soundscape of street noises and voices.
Before the interval, we were into the Latin section, with the Spanish composer Manuel De Falla’s Siete Canciones (Seven Songs – of which we had six), originally written for piano and voice but this time being played on violin and guitar.
You would never have known these weren’t De Falla’s original choice of instruments, so perfect was the integration.
It was the music of South America that took centre stage in the second half, firstly with Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Five Preludes for Guitar – each dedicated to different people, including one for Bach.
Sean Shibe is one very gifted guitarist and it was a pleasure listening to his delicacy and his strength of playing.
Combining these instruments was a masterstroke as they complement each other so well, and with no finer example than in the last duet – two movements of the Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla’s History of the Tango.
The voices of the two instruments rang loud and clear with rich tones, fine balance and the two players trading musical punches with panache.
If it was a reminder of French virtuosi, Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, the encore provided an opportunity to hear a Grappelli composition courtesy of an impromptu cello part for the festival artistic director.
A lovely ending to an evening of well-programmed, high entertainment.”