Walton • L Berkeley • Arnold • Dowland • Britten

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Walton; L Berkeley; Arnold; Dowland; Britten
LABELS: Delphian
ALBUM TITLE: Dreams & Fancies
WORKS: Walton: Five Bagatelles; L Berkeley: Sonatina for Guitar; Arnold: Fantasy for Guitar; Dowland: Praeludium; Forlorn Hope Fancy; Fantasia; Britten: Nocturnal after John Dowland
PERFORMER: Sean Shibe (guitar)


A key touchstone for classical guitarists in Britain and beyond is the extraordinary legacy of Julian Bream who, through determined commissioning, transformed a repertory otherwise ‘stuffed with unnourishing bon-bons,’ as Wilfred Mellors tartly – but accurately – observed in 1968. The results not only engaged a wider audience for the guitar, but established the instrument as an exciting resource for contemporary composers. 

In his debut solo album, following an enticing compilation of his recordings for the cover disc of this magazine in February 2016, Sean Shibe performs with superb artistry some of the now classics that Bream inspired, tracing an English heritage back to Dowland and the Elizabethan lute. Prime in any such catalogue is Britten’s 1963 Nocturnal after John Dowland, and Shibe gathers the listener into its unsettling, fantastical soundworld with an intensity that combines gracefulness and threat with rapier skill.

It’s the culmination of a programme in which Shibe – born in Scotland in 1992 of Anglo-Japanese descent – movingly navigates that peculiarly English fine line between whimsy and melancholic vision. Arnold’s underrated 1957 Fantasy and Lennox Berkeley’s Sonatina (1971) might bear in places the Spanish-y hallmarks of their composers’ uncertainty about this strange ‘new’ instrument, but Shibe brings them lovingly to life, while Walton’s Five Bagatelles (1971) are alternately attacked and stroked; echoing in restive spirit Britten’s expressive power.

One slight caveat concerns the recording, which captures Shibe at a seeming distance inside a halo of natural resonance. This enhances his mellow tone but sometimes clouds subtler details.

Steph Power


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