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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Preludes Opp. 28 and 45
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)
Twenty-Four Preludes Op. 11
Craig Sheppard (piano)
Recorded live at the Meany Theatre, University of Washington, Seattle, October 1994 (Chopin) and May 1995 (Scriabin)
AT 00-00549 [74.00]

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Contact Annette Tangemann
at-label@t-online.de

Recorded in concert at the Meany Theatre, Seattle in 1994, the performances of the Opp. 28 and 45 Preludes constitute an undertaking that Craig Sheppard meets with considerable reserves of imagination and technique. His tone is one of great beauty and the inevitable digital failings, mostly minor, one major, are of only passing concern. What will be more contentious however is his personalised attitude to the degree and application of rubato necessary to bring individual and collective life to the Preludes. Some, albeit intriguing, executive decisions have been made with regard to tempo relation, rubati and the shaping of the works - more often than not the slower Preludes. These do call attention to themselves.

He brings a wonderfully rich tone, warm and entirely lacking hardness or brittleness, to the Preludes; his warmth is unignorable in the Fourth Prelude of the Op 28 set. Here he is expressive and affectionate but perhaps lacks assertiveness at the climax. In the Sixth, again attractively phrased, he tends to layer tonal weight rather more than someone such as, say, Moiseiwitsch (whose 1948 recording fuses indelible beauty with architectural assurance). He cultivates tonal beauty prominently in the Ninth Prelude but in the Thirteenth, at a slow tempo, he is rather too much inclined to indulge in a degree of elasticity that buckles the arch of the Prelude. Metrical freedom also courses through the Fifteenth but one that to me retards and anticipates the rhythm in a way antipathetic to the structural dictates of the piece. I found Sheppard too quick in the Allegro molto, the Eighteenth, whatever the tempo designation. His downward right hand runs are also not clearly articulated - skated over, something he attempts to cover through overuse of the pedal. The mishap in the Twenty-First is actually quite well camouflaged in the circumstances and he recovers immediately; No. 24 is expressive and technically adroit and a fine ending.

Scriabin's Twenty-Four Preludes Op. 11 seem to me slightly, though not comprehensively, more successful. Once again his warmth and his cultivation of colour are admirable features of his pianism. His musicianship is never in doubt and his technique is strong. And yet here and there a distinct rhythmic imbalance creeps into his playing. He can inflect the line too sharply one way or the other to the detriment of both the internal harmony of the particular Prelude and on a larger stage to the cohesion of the set as a whole. Against that his tone is once again unfailingly beautiful, enhanced by the naturalness of the recording, and he is generous in his exploration of texture and colour.

Sheppard also wrote the notes - attractively to the point. As I said there is little to fault with the sound quality of these live performances.

Jonathan Woolf

see also composite review by Christopher Howell


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