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. His flair for pushing the repertoire boundaries for an instrument that has always had to beg and borrow was recognised in the 2018 Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist award: his choices here underlined the breadth of his range and sympathies.
Born in Edinburgh to English and Japanese parents, Shibe considers himself Scottish, and beginning with seven of his own arrangements of pieces from 17th-century Scottish lute manuscripts was for him a badge of honour. The lamenting, lilting sequence was the ideal prelude to Bach’s Suite in E minor, BWV 996, originally for lute. 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.
That nonchalance was the cue to move to electric guitar and plectrum for Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, for electric guitar and multi-tracked tape (Shibe’s own recording). Reich’s synchrony is seductive and, with Shibe now playing barefoot to feel the vibrations, his smiling and relaxed but quite unshowy style – relishing the shifts of harmony and pulse – made this irresistible.
His encore was another judicious choice, Peter Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness in Timothy Walker’s arrangement for classical guitar, a song of protest but also one of lament. It took us full circle.
On BBC Sounds until 2 July, or watch the concert here.