JS Bach - Pour la luth o cembal
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Cat No: DCD34233
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 22nd May 2020
WorksLute Suite in A minor, BWV997 (arr. for guitar)
Lute Suite in E minor, BWV996
Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV998 (arr. in D major for guitar)
ArtistsSean Shibe (guitar)
1Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996: 1. Prelude
2Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996: 2. Allemande
3Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996: 3. Courante
4Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996: 4. Sarabande
5Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996: 5. Bourrée
6Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996: 6. Gigue
7Partita in A minor, BWV 997: 1. Prelude
8Partita in A minor, BWV 997: 2. Fugue
9Partita in A minor, BWV 997: 3. Sarabande
10Partita in A minor, BWV 997: 4. Gigue
11Partita in A minor, BWV 997: 5. Double
12Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV 998: 1. Prelude
13Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV 998: 2. Fugue
14Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV 998: 3. Allegro
Now, for his third disc on Delphian, Shibe turns to music that stands at the summit of the classical guitar repertoire: Bach’s solo lute works. This is music that presents problems of genre: Bach wrote these pieces over a forty-year period in normal 5-line staff notation rather than lute tablature, and they often seem better suited to the keyboard than to the Baroque lute. Some of them may in fact have been written for the lute-harpsichord (or Lautenwerck), but the plucked nature of all these instruments makes their appropriation by guitarists from Segovia and Bream onwards a particularly happy one. Few, however, have recorded them with such a thrilling combination of technical flair, finesse and blazingly evident musical sympathy. It’s almost as if this music was waiting for Shibe to come along, the results are that breathtaking.
The recording venue, Crichton Collegiate Church in Midlothian, is especially apt, for it combines intimacy with warmth, while musical nods by Bach to various chorale tunes have suggested to some that this music may have been played during communion at church services. The boundaries between secular and sacred were less clear-cut during Bach’s lifetime than they often are nowadays (certainly more porous), and Shibe’s playing throughout the disc marries chamber-music delicacy with a rapt and pliable spirituality that is deeply affecting.
He opens with the Suite in E minor, BWV 996, a work of youthful vigour and variety, its six movements all on the compact side but bursting with a young man’s energy. The quasi-improvisatory nature of the Prelude’s opening bars is superbly conveyed here, while the following 3/8 fugal section is marvellously concentrated. It is in the following dance movements, however, that the magic of Shibe’s playing really hits the listener: the fabulous delicacy of touch in the first section repeat of the Allemande, the splendid poise of the Courante, the whispered tone of the Sarabande, the written-out double ‘trills’ of the concluding Gigue, and the wonderfully stylish application throughout of ornamentation. Shibe clearly knows his stuff when it comes to period manners, but they are seamlessly integrated into a musical intelligence that defies narrow pigeonholing.
The same strengths are magnified in the Partita, BWV 997 (originally in C minor, transposed here to the more guitar-friendly key of A minor), a masterwork for Bach’s later years in Leipzig perhaps composed for the great lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss. Here the expansion of scale and maturity of invention invite a more introspective approach, yet Shibe’s playing, always musically intelligent, is far from merely ‘cerebral’, relishing the music’s peaks and troughs, its variegated energies. The different voices of the second-movement Fugue are exquisitely drawn, while the spectral shading of the Sarabande is heart-stoppingly lovely. In the subsequent Gigue, the tempo is perfectly judged and inflected to allow the following Double to flower to maximum effect, a deeply satisfying conclusion to the Partita as a whole.
The disc closes with another mature masterpiece, the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998, transposed down from its original E flat to D major. The Prelude feels perfectly pitched: expansive yet thoughtful, relaxed but with a sureness of momentum. It is the central Fugue, however, the longest of the three movements and one that stands comparison with the finest of Bach’s organ fugues, that is the real wonder: the way that Shibe offers so much light and shade, so much loving delineation of the various strands, and a certainty of pacing that blossoms naturally (and excitingly!) into the concluding virtuoso Allegro. As throughout this phenomenal disc, Shibe demonstrates a musical maturity far beyond his 28 years, allied to a flawless technique that makes listening to it one of the greatest pleasures we’ve had so far this year. Certainly it’s one of the finest Bach discs to come our way in a long time, and another huge achievement for this uniquely compelling young artist. Recording and presentation are as exemplary as the playing.
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