Reviews

Wigmore Hall (03/06/2020)

The Guardian (Rian Evans), ★★★★★: “At 28, guitarist Sean Shibe may be one of the youngest of this month’s Wigmore Hall recitalists, but the calm authority with which he delivered this lunchtime programme will have won him much admiration. From the cadenza-like flexibility of the opening Passagio flourish and its French dotted rhythms, Shibe’s sound was immediately arresting. Yet his seriousness of purpose could be heard in the rhythmic precision and clarity of the voice-leading in everything that followed, his colouring finely graduated throughout. The slow Sarabande had a deep expressivity, the Gigue nonchalant virtuosity.”

The Spectator (Richard Bratby): “Sean Shibe finessed the art of music-making in isolation by playing Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.”

‘Bach: Pour La Luth Ò Cembal’ (Delphian Records, 2020)

Gramophone (William Yeoman), Editor’s Choice: “Can you ever speak in elevated, grandiose terms about a classical guitarist? You want to avoid weight, to find instead phrases of lightness and simplicity. Yet after listening to Sean Shibe’s magnificent new Bach recital, when I reach for comparisons I don’t go to other guitarists. Or even lutenists. I go to a musician like the violinist Rachel Podger, or the pianist Angela Hewitt. On the present recording, Shibe applies the musical and interpretative qualities that characterise its predecessors – energy, reflection, eclecticism, integration and emotional candour – to remind us that Bach might have been singular but he contained multitudes. Including those not yet born. Somewhat perversely, I’m reminded of that formidable doyenne of the harpsichord Wanda Landowska saying to cellist Pablo Casals: ‘You play Bach your way and I’ll play Bach his way.’ In reality, like Shibe, they both played Bach both ways. And with conviction. And love.”

BBC Radio 3 Record Review, Andrew McGregor: “How do you feel about Bach on guitar? Whatever your possible reservations, you should feel a lot better about it after this … The tone is warm and rich, the playing astonishingly clean, the ornamentation delicately and imaginatively applied and Shibe’s ability to voice Bach’s separate lines borders on the astonishing … I couldn’t stop playing this recording – in fact it’s some of the classiest and most compelling Bach playing I’ve heard on guitar. It goes beyond the technique and that’s astonishing in places… I’m learning things about the music I hadn’t noticed before because of the way Shibe voices and inflects it with such intimate understanding. PLEASE let there be more.”

The Times (Geoff Brown), ★★★★★: “For one thing, this astonishing and adventurous guitarist plays with such depth of tone, colour and intricacies of touch that it is as though he’s at a harpsichord. What matters above all is that Shibe’s music-making is masterful, beautiful and convincing in every way. What delights to pick out? Shibe awes us with the exquisite tone balance across the whole range, from dancing beauties up on top to bass notes that growl like a contented bear. How I panted for more.”

The Sunday Times (Stephen Pettit): “Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe consolidates his burgeoning reputation with this fine recital of three works originally written for the softer-sounding lute. He’s commandingly expressive in slower movements, like the improvisatory opening Prelude of the E minor Suite, BWV 996 and the spacious Sarabandes of that work and the C minor Partita, BWV 997, while the clarity in his articulation of the most complex counterpoints there and in the Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro, BWV 998, is as exemplary as his gloriously warm timbre is alluring.”

Presto Classical, Recording of the Week: “In the opening of the Sarabande we hear the first demonstration of a uniquely pearly pianissimo sonority that Shibe deploys at various key moments throughout the recording. The guitar is not known for its breadth of dynamic range, but Shibe shows clearly that it is perfectly possible to achieve great sonic variety, both in volume and in texture.”

Europadisc, Disc of the Week: “Few have recorded [these works] with such a thrilling combination of technical flair, finesse and blazingly evident musical sympathy. It’s almost as if this music was waiting for Shibe to come along, the results are that breathtaking. Throughout this phenomenal disc, Shibe demonstrates a musical maturity far beyond his 28 years, allied to a flawless technique that makes listening to it one of the greatest pleasures we’ve had so far this year. Certainly it’s one of the finest Bach discs to come our way in a long time, and another huge achievement for this uniquely compelling young artist.”

The Scotsman (Ken Walton), ★★★★★: “There’s nothing more soothing than the sweet sound of unaccompanied classical guitar coupled with the logical weave of Bach harmony and counterpoint. Throw guitarist Sean Shibe into the mix and you have a divine threesome worth more than the sum of its parts. Shibe’s nuanced precision explores music considered to be central to Bach’s lute repertoire, though which instruments these pieces were originally intended for remains a matter for debate. Regardless, the playing is exceptional, the E minor Suite and C minor Partita filled with a delicate sensuality suggestive of their stylistic dance origins. Shibe ends with the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat, its extended central Fugue a towering highlight from a performer of rare sensibility.”

Wigmore Hall (06/03/20)

The Times (Neil Fisher), ★★★★★: “It’s hard to believe that the Wigmore Hall will host another musician who plays in a hot-pink jumpsuit and after an uninterrupted hour of music leaves its audience in a state of near-nauseous confusion mixed with cathartic ecstasy. That is, unless Andras Schiff is about to have a radical wardrobe revamp. Shibe donned his jumpsuit for Georges Lentz’s 2009 hour-long Ingwe for electric guitar, “a demonic meditation about God’s silence”, according to the composer. It proved too demonic for the 20-odd audience members who walked out, and its jangling certainly tested our nerves. Yet the raw chords and wailing motifs — often at rock-gig volume — had a logic to them, and what Shibe retained was his craftsman’s curiosity, making the colours of this instrument dazzle as well as daze.”

theartsdesk.com (David Nice), ★★★★★: “Whether you found [Ingwe by Georges Lentz] compelling or hateful, you’d have to admit that no other work for electric guitar offers more possibilities, many of them surely unknown to most exponents. Shibe guided us theatrically, with occasional silent screams, through what can sometimes feel like an improvisation with guidelines. The spell, as always with Shibe, was total; no other guitarist that I know of is working at this artistic level.”

Seen and Heard International (Claire Seymour): “I don’t expect that Wigmore Hall had previously heard anything quite like the primal scream that exploded from Sean Shibe’s electric guitar at the start of the second half of this recital. Shibe, alone on the Wigmore Hall stage, cut a lonely figure but exuded a burning intensity. His black shirt glistening with silver threads, Shibe was a Merlin who cast a captivating spell.  At the extremes of both silence and shock-wave, this was miraculous and mesmerising music-making.”

Southbank Centre (11/01/20)

The Sunday Times (Paul Driver) ★★★★★: “[Julia Wolfe’s] 17-minute LAD (2007) requires the unusual combination of nine bagpipes, but Sean Shibe has adapted it as an electroacoustic piece for guitar, and it concluded his beautifully performed solo recital at the Hayward Gallery. This, given twice on the same evening, was part of a concert series there coinciding with, and exploiting, the stimulating backdrop of the Bridget Riley retrospective. Before the energised interlocking of circles that is her wall painting Composition with Circles 4 (2004), Shibe unfolded an original sequence… instantly seductive.”

Wigmore Hall, Britten series with Allan Clayton (04/01/2020)

Opera Today (Claire Seymour): “Clayton’s tenor was light and airy, subtly picking out selected words and nuances – “I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die” first swelled with urgency, then, when repeated, retreated to a floating whisper – above Shibe’s pristinely elaborate polyphonic accompaniment… In a mesmerising performance if Britten’s Nocturnal after John Downland, that was, paradoxically, both introspective and deeply communicative, Shibe seemed to venture ‘inside’ the music itself, as the semitonal conflicts wrought themselves into ever greater complexities before releasing their knots in tentative melodic fragments. Britten’s resourcefulness with small means is astonishing but Shibe’s performance held the Wigmore Hall audience spellbound. Cradling his instrument, head bent low, the Scottish-Japanese guitarist put me in mind of Dr John Dee: for this was musical magick, as if the spirit of those Elizabethan alchemists had returned to play upon our ears and hearts and minds – mesmerising us with terrifyingly quiet pianissimos, the player almost lost in improvisatory meditations which were broken by surprising, frightening declamations of eloquence and eeriness.”

‘softLOUD’ (Delphian Records, 2018)

BBC Music Magazine (Paul Riley), 5 stars, Instrumental Choice, 2019 BBC Music Magazine Awards Instrumentalist Finalist: “[He] is an artist blessed with grace to spare, and a roar that is fearsome.”

Gramophone (William Yeoman), ★★★★★, recipient of 2019 Gramophone Award for Concept Album of the Year: “The talented young Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe brings this bracingly original concert programme featuring music for acoustic and electric guitars into the recording studio. The results, like the performances themselves, are spectacular. [There is] something about cumulative effect. About taking the music of the past and transforming it. Or deconstructing it. Or dissolving into it. Or just plain smashing it.”

The Guardian (Erica Jeal): “… a definitive performance of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.”

The Scottish Review of Books (David Lee): “It is pure delight to hear Shibe—unburdened by any sense of historicist orthodoxy—taking full advantage of the modern classical instrument and stamping his own artistic ownership all over them…Entirely deserving of the attention and awards it has begun to receive,softLOUD is something you’ll want to listen to in two halves, as well as straight through. It’s absolutely riveting. It’s the most eloquent musical scream on record.”

‘Dreams & Fancies’ (Delphian Records, 2017)

BBC Music Magazine (Steph Power): Shibe performs with superb artistry some of the now classics that Bream inspired… Prime in any such catalogue is Britten’s 1963 Nocturnal after John Dowland, and Shibe gathers the listener into its unsettling, fantastical sound-world with an intensity that combines gracefulness and threat with rapier skill. Not just great guitar playing, but for two members of this year’s jury the best they had ever heard. At 25, Sean Shibe is that rare thing, a mature philosopher among musicians. ” 5 stars, Instrumental Choice, 2018 BBC Music Magazine Awards Instrumentalist Finalist.

Gramophone (William Yeoman): “Whether any of the works in this debut solo recording by Scottish-Japanese guitarist Sean Shibe should be considered a masterpiece is debatable, though Britten’s Nocturnal surely comes close. Certainly most of them were inspired by Bream’s superlative artistry and are central to the guitar’s repertoire. But that question need not concern us here. Because, under Shibe’s fingers, they are all mesmerising.” Gramophone Editor’s Choice.

theartsdesk.com (Graham Rickson): “This is the best solo guitar disc I’ve heard. That it comes from a soloist in his twenties makes it all the more astounding. Remarkable stuff, and the range of colours which Shibe draws from just six strings is extraordinary. Brilliant – buy multiple copies immediately and distribute to family and friends. They’ll thank you.”

Various

Classical Guitar Magazine (2012): “dynamic…spectacularly talented”

The Herald (Michael Tumelty, 2009): “Then came utter magic in Marek Pasieczny’s guitar Sequenza, which took the guitar into little-explored, often exotic and always beguiling territory, and played by, I believe, the finest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard, Sean Shibe, a first year student who, incredibly, is still 16. Remember the name. One day he will be famous; I do not exaggerate.”

The Herald (Conrad Wilson, 2008):Shibe, the youngest musician ever to win a scholarship to the RSAMD, is a guitarist of rare perception. Resolutely serious and wholly unsmiling, he focuses entirely on the music, whether it is Leo Brouwer’s Cuban sonata (another work with a visual source, in this case the art of Paul Klee), or the masterly wit and vibrancy of Walton’s Five Bagatelles.”

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