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CD: Crotchet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Well Tempered Clavier Book II - BWV 870-893 (1744) [153:09]
Craig Sheppard (piano)
rec. Meany Theatre, Seattle, 21, 23 April 2008
ROMÉO RECORDS 7269-70 [73:24 + 79:45]
Experience Classicsonline

I reviewed Book I of Craig Sheppard’s traversal of The Well Tempered Clavier about a year ago. That was recorded in April 2007. Book II followed a year later. And so with almost inevitable symmetry I review Book II almost a year after it was recorded, as ever in the Meany Theatre, Seattle. The central issues I located in Book I are reprised here and loath though I am to quote myself so consistent and remarkable is Sheppard’s playing that it seems apposite; the salient features of his playing include a thorough absorption of editorial concerns, a concern for clarity of articulation, a determination to let the music take wing and yet 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.
The uncanny thing in his playing is the sense of rightness of every tempo decision, the rhythmic propulsion that underlies it, the logic that is part of his arching schema, the voicings, and the acute and judicious pedalling. The result is an absorbing illustration of a kind of synthesis between heart and mind, between thorough study and absorption of stylistic models, and of pragmatic decision-making. It’s the kind of playing that I would characterise as non-intercessionary. It sweeps you up in the directional arrow of its music making and casts you onwards.
One can merely listen to the unselfconscious warmth of phrasing of the Prelude in C major, the exquisitely weighted control and dynamic shading that follow in ensuing Preludes; the vitality and clarity of articulation of the Prelude in D minor; the gravity of the Fugue in E major; the freedom and joyfulness that emanate from the F major Fugue. Similarly there is a culminatory sense of magnificent eloquence in the F sharp minor Fugue and a surety of direction – something that applies throughout of course, but this is a particular example of it – in the Prelude in B flat minor. 
There are, in fact, no abrasive issues with this performance. The recording is, as is usual with this source, quite up-front but it didn’t disturb me. This two disc set represents another triumph for a musician who never parades or shows off, who devotes himself to the truth as he finds it and who abjures all extraneous and slick gestures in its pursuit.
Jonathan Woolf


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