fri 21/06/2024

Shibe, Egmont Ensemble, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Shibe, Egmont Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

Shibe, Egmont Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

Could a young guitarist and piano trio possibly improve upon this perfection?

Sean Shibe: cusp-of-silence dynamicsJules Lawrence

It was a sad coincidence that this Monday Platform “showcasing talented young artists” took place only weeks after the death in a road accident of Roderick Lakin, Director of Arts for 31 years at the Royal Over-Seas League which was last night's backer. For no concert could have been more sensitively tuned to a personal farewell. Overt melancholy only surfaced in the slow-movement theme of Brahms’s Second Piano Trio. But wouldn’t you want Dowland, Bach and Schubert at your memorial concert?

I know I would, and especially from these artists, all so inclined to mature introspection that they certainly don’t need the epithet “promising”; everything is already here, with nothing obvious to add and only a fear for the loss of a certain perfection.

Can there be more luminous tones and cusp-of-silence dynamics to be drawn from a guitar than the ones 23-year-old Sean Shibe constantly searches out? His opening Dowland, the fascinating Forlorn Hope Fancy, began with the same chromatic descent that marks out the lament of Purcell’s Dido, only to fly off into the gentlest fantastics. Each voice in the fugue between Bach’s BWV998 Prelude and Allegro had its own colour, and the way Shibe brought resolution to what he registered as a very modern-sounding suspension near the beginning sounded little short of miraculous.

I want to hear his interpretation of Britten’s phantasmagorical Nocturnal after John Dowland over and over, teasing out the phrases already made clearer than usual from the exquisite “Come, Heavy Sleep” which ever so intensely pave the way, via a spellbinding Passacaglia descent, for the song’s emergence towards the end (Britten uses much the same analysis-defying technique in his other great Dowland-based piece Lachrymae). Rubato, phrases swelled and diminished in a way I hardly thought possible on the guitar and the radiant focus on snatches of melody would surely have amazed the composer. This, for me, is the definitive performance.

Egmont EnsembleThe same goes for the contributions of the young Egmont Ensemble, even with one pianist of splendid individuality, Sam Armstrong (pictured below), replacing the regular, James Sherlock (pictured right with Benjamin Baker and Jonathan Bloxham). The performances I’ve so far heard with violinist Baker leading – namely Mendelssohn’s Octet at the East Neuk Fesival, the Korngold Suite in Pärnu and the Schubert String Quintet in Southrepps – have had a supernaturally beautiful atmosphere, the fruit of serious readiness combined with cultured musicianship and flawless intonation. It was a bonus to hear Schubert’s Notturno in E flat, which foreshadows the supreme slow movement of the Quintet in so many ways: the endless melody, the ethereal pizzicati Baker and cellist Bloxham etched over the increasingly elaborate piano part after their soulful opening duet.

The Notturno’s sequel, a new piece by Baker’s fellow New Zealander Gareth Farr, is called Forbidden Coloursie “bluey yellow” being not quite green – says the composer, because of what he describes as “the elusive, blurry nature of the piece”. What’s blurry is the water-music in the piano part – superbly rippled by Armstrong – and underlined by the strings, but the structure of this work, which doesn’t outstay its welcome, is clear, the themes well defined and touches like the melodic line from violin and cello octaves apart but also having to add  extra string harmony in between proof of a fine ear for textures.

Sam ArmstrongBrahms’s epic-lyric manner couldn’t have been more classically defined than by the further unisons for strings, his unceasing invention encapsulated in the new turns Baker so eloquently and effortlessly etched in the first-movement coda. The Theme and Variations were similarly held in perfect equilibrium between romantic outpouring and the polished means of expressing it, but there was no doubt where the greatest burst of song comes, in the middle of the otherwise ghostly scherzo. Come back, you wanted to cry, as this spirit of delight vanished; it doesn’t, of course, but Brahms has plenty of robustness in store for the finale, and this trio never faltered in what, once again, I can only describe as a perfect interpretation.

Any faults? Only the Wigmore acoustic’s, in defusing the focus of the piano sound further back under the dome; but it made up for that in supporting the intense silence of an audience I’d long been dreaming about at the Proms, one which played its part in making this evening exceptional. It was as if the best of the Arena listeners had been invited to this most private, though not exclusive, of parties.

Next page: watch the end of Britten's Nocturnal performed by Shibe during his time as BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist

Sean Shibe playing the Dowland tune in Britten's Nocturnal

Phrases were swelled and diminished in a way I hardly thought possible on the guitar


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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