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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Well Tempered Clavier: Book I, BWV 846-869 (1722)
Craig Sheppard (piano)
rec. live, Meany Theatre, Seattle, April 2007
ROMÉO RECORDS 7258/9 [57:45 + 61:11]
Experience Classicsonline

Craig Sheppard is recording the WTC one book at a time. The First was taped live at the Meany Theatre, Seattle in April 2007 and represents further consolidation of his gifts as one of the leading Bach players of the day. The salient features include a thorough absorption of editorial concerns, a concern for clarity of articulation, a determination to let the music take wing and to explore gravity with appropriate weight. To that end he never over pedals, and his touch encourages kaleidoscopic, shifting patterns to emerge but never to obscure the contrapuntal or harmonic nature of the music’s direction.

One senses from the very start that Sheppard will bring a sense of appropriateness to the entire Book.  The C major Prelude is warmly textured but has clarity and its tempo is perfectly judged. The supple rhythmic control that underlies his playing is exemplified by the C sharp minor Fugue, which is never for one moment mechanical or prescriptive. On the contrary it courses with life affirming impetus, its voices cogently brought out and evoked. The Prelude of the C sharp minor has real gravity allied to tonal beauty, though the tone colours are selected not for beauty in itself but for their appropriateness.  The brilliantly incisive and mobile left hand accents in the Prelude in D minor show Sheppard’s continuing quest to aerate textures and to keep the music making supple. The Prelude in E flat minor has tremendous delicacy of touch without in any way appearing mannered.

Equally the Fugue in F minor is splendidly sustained with balanced tone colours. These qualities run throughout the first book. The Prelude in B flat major is brilliantly fluent but the result is not motoric, or cool, or metallic; there is quite sufficient time to phrase warmly but incisively, qualities that are emblematic of Sheppard’s approach. There is expressive dignity in the Prelude in B flat minor and in the final Fugue of Book I Sheppard finds the unsettled, unsettling strangeness of the music.

There are moments when Sheppard seizes the music by the scruff of the neck and that makes for contagious excitement. For the most part however this is a performance that stresses the mountain stream clarity and lyricism of the music.

The recording is, as per many of these Meany recitals, close-up. Sheppard’s booklet notes are both very readable and also thought provoking. We can look forward to Book II with the highest anticipation.

Jonathan Woolf


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