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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Lute Suite in E minor BWV 996 (1712 or later?) [14:54]
Partita in C minor BWV 997 (c 1740) [19:08]
Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major BWV 998 (c 1740-45) [12:19]
Sean Shibe (guitar)
rec. 20-21 May and 17-18 December 2019, Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian, UK
DELPHIAN DCD34233 [46:24]

Sean Shibe was born in Edinburgh of English/Japanese ancestry. He has been widely acclaimed as an exceptional artist and freely compared with Julian Bream and John Williams. I must concur with this praise. I first heard him on Radio 3 – a programme in which he talked about some of his special interests, then played recordings. Immediately I sought out any available CDs, but Shibe has made only two or three solo discs and for an artist of such calibre this is surprising under-representation. One can only hope that the success of his recordings to date will encourage CD companies to extend his discography and satisfy his enthusiastic followers. To summarise, in these Bach performances I am equally impressed by Shibe's poise, balance, tonal variety, clarity, naturalness, freshness and fluidity. I honestly don't see what would be gained by a blow-by-blow account of each movement and each piece. Shibe's artistry, whether in an improvisatory passage as heard at the very opening of the disc, the various fugal sections, or diverse dance-movements, is totally convincing. Only musicians of the highest integrity, free from any technical limitations and possessed of a true understanding of the music in hand, afford such deep satisfaction.

In the 1920's Andres Segovia was the first celebrated guitarist to make recordings of Bach's music. Subsequently Julian Bream and John Williams both added works by Bach to their repertoire. The E minor Suite BWV 996 is usually played on the lute or guitar, but an early copy includes a note suggesting that the composer intended the lute-harpsichord (a Baroque instrument with gut strings, designed to imitate the sound of the lute). To anyone uncomfortable with hearing Bach played on the guitar, these academic questions will be important. For myself, and possibly many others, Bach's music is impervious to arrangements, no matter which instrument is used. Surely, when the artistry is as superb as on this disc, any objections to the use of the guitar will be silenced, or at least muted.

My only caveat is the short playing time on offer. Many CDs provide an additional thirty-five minutes' music. Still, the playing is a revelation so I hope that only a few people, if any, will be deterred from buying this classy disc. Anyone who hesitates will be missing out on musicianship of a very special order.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

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