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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de Pèlerinage: Book I (Suisse) [46:43]; Book II (Italie) [47:22]
Craig Sheppard (piano)
rec. 20-21 October 2011, Meany Theater, Seattle
ROMÉO RECORDS 7289/90 [46:43 + 47:22]

Craig Sheppard's recording of Books I and II of Années de Pèlerinage was made, as so often for him, at the Meany Theater in Seattle, over two days in October 2011. He played on his own Hamburg Steinway.
This is certainly not the first time that Sheppard has recorded Liszt but it looks as if it might be the most comprehensive look at the composer on disc that he has yet undertaken. To suggest a generality, his view of much of the first two books is quite linear and direct. He eschews grandiloquence and also, to a degree, spacious unfolding. Thus La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell is strikingly fast, as if Sheppard needs to establish, from the first that questions of monumentality, strong rubati and over-use of the pedal have no place in his own Lisztian scheme of things. It is striking, too, how reserved he is with the pedal here. Le Lac de Wallenstadt is suffused with refined tone, the Pastorale freshly shaped.
He is more reflective than the more determinedly inflected Horowitz in Au bord d'une source. He takes a decidedly dramatic and forward moving tempo for Vallée d'Obermann. It doesn't share Lazar Berman's sculptural grandeur, but it does share something of the vitality of Mordecai Shehori and Aldo Ciccolini. Dynamics aren't as graphic Mal du Pays as they are by Berman. In Book II he builds to the climax of Sposalizio very adeptly, ensuring plenty of textual detail is audible but managing also to convey the music's character. It's a quality that informs the Canzonetta del Salvador Rosa, where humour is constantly pointed. The three Petrarch Sonnets provide interesting interpretations. No.47 slightly lacks energy at the start, certainly in comparison with Jorge Bolet's old Baldwin LP performance and Earl Wild's live traversal on Piano Classics. In No.104, Sheppard conveys the initial agitation with considerable power; his reading is more unsettled than those of Horowitz and Bolet, but also (deliberately, I think) evinces less overt nobility. He takes a taut and arresting, Wild-like tempo for 103. His Dante Sonata performance is excellent throughout, technically, expressively, structurally.

Sometimes I've found the recording in this Roméo series just that bit too close, so that it catches elements of the Steinway's action, but here I don't find any such problem.
The two discs are offered at what is described as a 'special price'. They can be warmly commended to Sheppard’s many admirers.
Jonathan Woolf 

see also review by Christopher Howell