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CD: Crotchet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das wohltemperierte Clavier, Book 2, BWV 870-893 (1742?)
Craig Sheppard (piano)
rec. 21-23 April 2008, Meany Theater, Seattle
ROMÉO RECORDS 7269-70 [73:24 + 79:45]
Experience Classicsonline

Craig Sheppard is strongly identified with Roméo Records, and his recent releases, which include for example the Beethoven sonatas, have been met with acclaim. He is an experienced artist and his Bach performances recorded here show a consistently thoughtful and imaginative response to the challenge of interpreting the ‘old testament’ of keyboard music. Several months ago his release of Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier met with a favourable critical response.
Some listeners will no doubt object to the choice of the piano rather than the harpsichord, in which case the option of the new version by Masaaki Suzuki on BIS will offer a fresh alternative. But for those like me who warm to a sensitive performance of Bach on the piano, Sheppard will bring much reward. There is nothing indulgent about his choices of tempo, which invariably seem and feel right, while his articulation of part-writing is beautifully textured and articulated.
Bach selected each of the major and minor keys in his preludes and fugues and developed the personality of each composition from that starting point. Tempi are sometimes implied rather than imposed, which makes the experience of listening to each new performance or recording that much more interesting. Sheppard’s judgements never seem inappropriate, and are consistently musical. Thus the C major Prelude and its Fugue are both flexibly phrased, for example, with subtle shadings of textural balance. Legato lines are a compelling feature of the performances, not least in the beautifully shaped C minor piece, both parts.
Another compelling feature of this release, confirming all of the above in terms of judgement, is that Sheppard provides his own programme notes. Artists are often found wanting when they venture into this elusive and demanding field, but not in this case, which is so well researched and eloquently written.
While there are other fine versions of this marvellous keyboard music, employing either piano or harpsichord as the case may be, Sheppard’s version can stand comparison with any. I say this whether the competition comes from the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca) or Angela Hewitt (Hyperion) on the piano, or from Bob van Asperen (Virgin Classics) or Masaaki Suzuki (BIS) on the harpsichord. The profiles and distribution networks of these competitors no doubt will ensure that they rightly make their mark, but Craig Sheppard’s performances are of an equally high order.
Terry Barfoot

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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