Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Thirty-Three Variations on a waltz of Diabelli (The Diabelli Variations) Op 120 (1822-23)
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Sonata No 5 in F sharp Op 53 (1907)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Impromptu in G flat D899 No 3
Craig Sheppard (piano)
Recorded live in the Meany Theatre, University of Washington, Seattle in May 1995 (Beethoven) and in February 1994 (remainder)
AT 00-00239 [66.50]

Contact: Annette Tangermann

The interpretative problems in the Diabelli Variations are significant. There is considerable colouristic potential, numerous marked dynamic gradients, issues of rhythmic licence, the question of appropriate tempi in the faster numbers, the matter of volatility and the silences between variations; running through all these of course there is also the comedic element. Plenty more considerations apply to a successful traversal and these are only some of the more obvious. Craig Sheppard has taken on these challenges in this Meany Theatre recital recorded in May 1995 and has emerged triumphant.

Here are some highlights of his splendidly persuasive performance. He catches the mock sententiousness of the first variation with splendid layering of weight, and gives the voicings in the Poco Allegro second variation their due balance. His warmth in the fourth doesn’t at all preclude strong entry points and whilst there is a little indistinctness at the beginning of the sixth that soon passes. He generates energy and momentum in the seventh and equally mines bluff humour to tremendous effect in the ninth. The decisive bravado with which he ends the Presto tenth is splendid. The dangers of the thirteenth variation are well negotiated – this powerfully internally contrastive variation relies on those pointed silences and the juxtaposition of power and an answering relative timidity, to which Sheppard adduces a crucial skittishness. In the fourteenth there is no hardening of tone above forte; he holds the bass line well and is not as abrupt as some pianists – Schnabel, I suppose, is the locus classicus here – can be. In the seventeenth he is delightfully propulsive and the clarity of his entries are not in doubt in the nineteenth. In the twentieth, the remarkable Andante, there is plenty of depth of sonority – whereas Schnabel is quicker, less reliant on Sheppard’s sense of stasis. The twenty-third is pungently done, the succeeding variation explicitly contrasted with the former, the fugal entries delicate though they soon gather in amplitude – a strength born of directional acuity (though maybe, arguably, too much so). The delicacy of the twenty-ninth is tempered by alert timing and the discursive depth of the Andante; sempre cantabile is well realised. These then are the highlights of a most satisfying and successful traversal.

The disc is rounded out with Scriabin and Schubert. The former’s Fifth Sonata is negotiated with architectural strength and a luminous tone whilst the Schubert G flat Impromptu sounds as if the piano hammers were encased in down. This is hyper-romantic audacity of the Old School and won’t suit those of a more ascetic disposition. For others it will be simply beautiful playing. A strong recommendation then for this splendidly astute and affectionate disc.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Christopher Howell


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