Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
The Six Partitas for Keyboard (1726-1731)
Craig Sheppard (piano)
Recorded Live, Meany Theatre, Seattle, Washington, November 2005
Released May 2006
Romeo Records 7248/9 [2cds - 68:07 + 70:45]
If you've ever wondered what Glenn Gould might sound like without
eccentricities, the Philadelphia born and raised Craig Sheppard is the
answer. Gould's famous qualities of propulsion, contrapuntal mastery,
pin-point articulation and perfect synthesis of instinct and intellect
are on full display in Sheppard's interpretation of the Bach Keyboard
Partitas. Most significant, Sheppard is like Gould in elevating secondary
musical lines to an equal status with the primary lines without any loss
of primary line projection; this attribute gives the dialogue a different
nature that is consistently compelling and illuminating.
Are there any significant differences between Sheppard and Gould?
Definitely. Sheppard has a more lyrical bent than Gould and his tempos
(although quick) are more mainstream than Gould's. Further, Sheppard
does not employ staccato as frequently or as strongly as Gould. As for
Gould's infamous vocalizing, there's none of that from Sheppard.
Mr. Sheppard graduated from the Curtis Institute and Julliard School,
experiencing his New York performance debut in 1972. Moving to England
after winning the silver medal at the 1973 Leeds International Pianoforte
Competition, Sheppard developed a strong reputation there and often
played for the BBC during his twenty year stint on the other side of the
pond. In 1993, he joined and remains on the faculty of the University
of Washington as Professor of Piano while still keeping a very active
schedule of concert performances in the United States, Europe and Asia.
I'd like to utilize the Partita No. 2 in C minor as an indicator of
Sheppard's style in Bach. The work begins with a three-part Sinfonia
that I consider a French Overture with a difference. Generally, a French
Overture has a double-dotted introduction followed by a fugal section.
In Bach's Sinfonia, the Grave adagio and Allegro fugue are separated by
a highly lyrical Andante full of emotional longing. Sheppard offers a
fantastic rendition of the Sinfonia with a forceful and regal introduction,
his Andante constantly searches for answers and the elevation of secondary
voices in the fugal section is thrilling.
The Allemande is similar to the Sinfonia's Andante in emotional depth
and lyricism, and Sheppard again hits his target as he continues his
quest for truth and justice; the concentration of his energy is amazing.
Bach's Sarabande is one of his most gorgeous, and Sheppard certainly
brings out all its beauty; I am again struck by Sheppard's tremendous
focus on resolution of all musical arguments. In the Courante and
Rondeau, Sheppard gives us two of his many examples of great propulsion,
and his Capriccio sounds like a continuous stream of speeding bullets
reaching their mark.
The Romeo Records soundstage is excellent - neither overly reverberant
nor clinical. Sheppard's outstanding detail of each musical line is
well captured by the sonics, and the depth of sound is admirable.
Don's Conclusions: Sheppard's is one of the greatest-ever recordings of
Bach's Partitas for Keyboard. Sheppard is a man on mission who uses and
needs Bach's music to solve the questions that have evaded us throughout
history. In his interpretations, Sheppard always gives full concentration
to this goal and never allows for detours. That's Gould also. So I
give Sheppard's set the highest recommendation as it joins the top echelon
of piano versions of the Partitas including the Gould on Sony, Tureck
on Philips, Rubsam on Naxos and Rangell on Dorian. As an aside, Sheppard
has also recorded the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas to great acclaim.
Yes, Sheppard is a special pianist who demands your attention.
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