Tuesday 24 October 2017

Sean Shibe - Dreams and Fancies

Sean Shibe - Dreams and Fancies
Walton, Berkeley, Dowland, Arnold, Britten; Sean Shibe; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 9 2017 Star rating: 4.0
The young Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe in an homage both to Julian Bream and to British 20th century guitar writing

Apart from three John Dowland pieces, all the works on this disc of British guitar music date from the period 1957 to 1971, a period when guitar music underwent something of a resurgence in the UK. All the works on the recording, including the Dowland, were inspired, performed and edited by the guitarist Julian Bream, and Sean Shibe's disc on Delphian is something of an homage. Shibe plays Walton's Five Bagatelles, Lennox Berkeley's Sonatina for Guitar Op.51/2, Malcolm Arnold's Fanasy for Guitar Op.107, Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland Op.70, and Dowland's Praeludium, Forlorn Hope Fancy and Fantasia.

Walton's Five Bagatelles were written in 1971 as present for Malcolm Arnold's fiftieth birthday. Walton was not stranger to the guitar, he had written the song cycle Anon in Love for Peter Pears and Julian Bream, but a solo work for Bream took longer as Walton was going through a crisis of confidence. A sequence of delightful miniatures, they are superb and characterful late Walton and a little gem of the guitar repertoire, though occasionally you feel that Walton has been listening to rather too many Segovia records.

As the CD booklet article by Lucy Walker puts it, apart from Britten 'the other composers represented here, while retaining their English styles, borrow here and there from the guitar's Spanish heritage; if they occasionally teeter towards pastiche, it is at the same time held at a kind of quizzical remove within their sharper-edged twentieth-century British idiom'. It is this balance which makes the disc such fascinating listening, thanks to Bream's advocacy you have British composers exploring an instrument which was generally seen as idiomatically Spanish.

Lennox Berkeley's Sonatina was written in 1957, and Berkeley very much mines his own elegant style, bringing out the guitar's neo-classical heritage rather than anything intrinsically Spanish. Cast in a classic three movement sonata form, it's elegant melodic material is supported Berkeley's austere formal rigour. And played by Shibe with elegance and clarity.

Next follows a trio of Dowland pieces, Praeludium, Forlorn Hope Fancy and Fantasia, a tribute to Bream's pioneering playing of lute music on guitar, but Dowland was also a great influence on Britten's music. The short and melancholic Praeludium leads to the two more substantial works, both free fantasias combining melancholy with startling chromaticism and complexity.

Malcolm Arnold's Fantasia was written in 1971, and Arnold already had a number of works for Julian Bream's guitar under his belt. In seven short movements, the work moves between different styles each movement having a strong character. Yet overall, Shibe brings these various strands together into a fine whole.

Finally on the disc, Britten's dark and complex Nocturnal after John Dowland. As with Britten's Lachrymae also based on Dowland, Nocturnal is a set of variations where only towards the end do we hear something like the unadulterated Dowland air Come heavy sleep. It is a dark and disturbing work, the night clearly being full of images, and of all the pieces on the disc it is the one which takes the guitar into contemporary territory rather than writing a piece which references past styles. Britten takes the guitar's character on board in his inimitable way, and re-uses it to create something new.

Shibe's has been making a name for himself in a variety of repertoires on the guitar, and on this disc he brings out his English heritage, whilst at the same time giving us and engaging and beautifully crafted programme.

William Walton (1902-1983) - Five Bagatelles (1971)
Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) - Sonatina for Guitar Op.52/1 (1957)
John Dowland (1563-1626) - Praeludium
John Dowland - Forlorn Hope Fancy
John Dowland - Fantasia
Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) - Fantasy for Guitar Op.107 (1971)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - Nocturnal after John Dowland Op.70 (1963)
Shean Shibe (guitar)
Recorded 20-21 December 2016 and 7-8 February 2017 at Crichton Collegiate College, Midlothian
DELPHIAN DCD34193 1CD [66.30]
Available from Amazon.

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