Sean Shibe

University of Glasgow Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

GUITARIST Sean Shibe may not yet have the global recognition of Bob Dylan or the late Miles Davis, but like both of those maverick musical icons he is a stranger to compromise.

It is not that Shibe won’t play the staples of the classical guitar repertoire – he joins the Halle in Nottingham in June for Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez – but given the opportunity to perform new or rarely-heard repertoire and challenge audience perceptions, he is not one to hold back.

The big modern piece he chose to launch a new chamber music series in Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre in January was the final work in this recital. Harrison Birtwistle’s Beyond the White Hand: Construction with Guitar takes its inspiration from a Picasso sculpture/installation that uses found objects, and builds upon an earlier Birtwistle piece by exploring the sonic possibilities of the instrument, from big chords and lyrical runs to taps on the body and the head-stock. With a surprisingly funky passage in the middle of its near-20 minute duration, and a gently lyrical finish, it is a major undertaking for any player.

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So too is the sole Sonata for Guitar by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, which preceded it. Originally written in the mid-1970s, although revised twice since, Shibe described it as “hallucinatory” and noted nods to both Wagner and Beethoven in its 12 minutes.

There is a similar sense of exploring the workings of the guitar as a machine in the work, from the resonating open strings at the start, and bolder percussion effects, to the frenetic jazzy minute with which it concludes.

The audience that gathers for the Music in the University recitals on a Thursday at 1pm is probably more open to unfamiliar experiences than some, and the packed venue gave that second half of Shibe’s hour the concentration it demanded.

The music that preceded it was a more gentle way in, although the 12 Guitar Etudes of Heitor Villa-Lobos – from which Shibe chose a selection of six – are still very rigorous. Numbers 3 and 11 have attractive melodies, while the complex tune of No 8 comes packaged with a demanding underscore.

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Elsewhere the sequences of descending chords or arpeggios are more like the technical studies their title suggests, and they sat well at the start of the programme.

All of which left “Julia Florida” by Agustin Barrios Mangore as the light relief of the recital. A beautiful love song for a student of the guitarist/composer, Shibe called it “concrete and conservative”, which seems a little harsh.

A lovely work of Latin American lyricism, it’s Chopin-like melody came garnished with exquisitely delicate harmonics.