Music review: BBC SSO & Sean Shibe, City Halls, Glasgow

Guitar virtuoso Sean Shibe sparkled in an enchanting evening of music from Spain and Russia, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO & Sean Shibe, City Halls, Glasgow *****

Thursday afternoon’s BBC SSO concert spotlighted two vibrant musical personalities: Scots-born guitarist Sean Shibe and Bulgarian-born conductor Delyana Lazarova. Where Lazarova’s penchant for big-hearted Russian repertoire – by Rimsky-Korsakov and his pupil Igor Stravinsky – ensured meaty bookends to the programme, the sparkling intimacy of Shibe’s solo playing in Spanish concertos by Rodrigo and Francisco Coll filled its inner moments with exotic Iberian charm.

Lazarova’s chemistry with the SSO, loaded with common purpose and a mission to excite and enchant, was exhilarating from the start. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, itself a neat Russo-Spanish musical conflation, opened with an explosive adrenalin rush that hardly diminished. Dazzling solo interaction between leader Kanako Ito, clarinettist Adam Lee, harpist Helen Thomson and flautist Matthew Higham gave added sparkle to a jubilant performance.

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Shibe’s first appearance was in a newly reduced version for guitar and chamber orchestra of Coll’s 2017 concerto Turia. Inspired by a dried-out Valencia riverbed, now adorned with flowers, fountains and cafes, the five movements are like snapshots of its transformed existence. All were exquisitely captured in a gorgeously perfumed performance, from ethereal opening brushstrokes, through chaotic frenzy and soulful reflection, to a pithy, coruscating finale.

Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez proved just as enthralling, the orchestra’s bright, breezy, sometimes mischievous countenance initially matched by Shibe’s rhythmic incision, its buoyancy countered by the probing lyricism and exotic flavourings of the famous Adagio.

The concert closed with Stravinsky’s suite The Firebird, the SSO responding to Lazarova’s clear intentions with electrifying and expressive unity, the work’s impressionistic borrowings every bit as thrilling as its Russian brutality and unquestioning resolution.

Amid the audience applause, Lazarova beckoned SSO cellist Harold Harris to his feet, acknowledging his retirement after 33 years with the orchestra. A generous gesture.

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