Fresh from my encounter with Craig Sheppard’s Book One of the
Well Tempered Clavier comes this disc of the Fifteen Two-Part
Inventions BWV 772-786 and Fifteen Three-Part Sinfonias BWV 787-801.
Next on my listening list is Sheppard’s Partitas.
As is now usual
Sheppard is recorded in the Meany Theatre in Seattle. Each
Invention is paired with a Sinfonia that shares the same key.
The result is a disc of wonderful insights into the appropriateness
of things. Aeration of texture is one of the things that so
distinguishes his playing. It’s not over-refinement or crystalline
coolness, rather it’s the lyricism, rhythmic precision and
clarity that gives such life and a sense of motion to the
music making. And the corollary is that each Sinfonia and
Invention bears appropriate weight; weight relative to its
So, time for some
examples of Sheppard’s perception, his imaginative and intellectual
qualities. Take the delving independence of the left hand
voicings in the Sinfonia in C major – the dancing rhythms
and the sense of colour evoked. The realisation that Sheppard
is seeking an appropriate colour and weight is immediately
apparent but reinforced, early, in the Sinfonia in C minor
where in addition to these qualities we feel him measuring
the music for its expressive qualities without any excessive
lingering. Note too the absolute precision of articulation
in the Sinfonia in D minor.
The Sinfonia in E minor has a powerful
sense of refinement and elegance in motion. The Invention
in F major shows that Sheppard’s tone never hardens toward
brittleness and that he maintains a natural sounding tempo
and pliant unostentatious phrasing entirely at the service
of the music; lit from within, not from without. He is sensitive
to dynamic variations of course but never as self-conscious
devices; try the Invention in F minor where the sheer communicative
warmth of the playing is allied to a sense of reflective,
lyrical delicacy. But when the music demands it Sheppard is
alive to its more troubling aspects. The Sinfonia in F minor
is, in his hands, starkly introspective and is pointed with
austere direction and a definable sense of angularity. The
result is deeply impressive.
Sheppard has written
his own notes, once more, and again they reflect the executant’s
ceaseless seeking. The recording is, as with this series in
general, quite close but attractively so. Sheppard’s Bach
recordings continue to impress time after time.