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Partitas BWV 825-830

Craig Sheppard (Piano)

Craig Sheppard plays Bach Keyboard Partitas


J.S. Bach: The Six Keyboard Partitas

Partitas BWV 825-830 [17:56, 18:24, 18:01, 31:33, 21:05, 31:32]

Craig Sheppard (Piano)

Romeo Records

Nov 1, 2005

2-CD / TT: 138:31

Recorded live at Meany Theater, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Review: An Outstanding Recording of Bach's Keyboard Partitas
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Craig Sheppard plays Bach Keyboard Partitas

Scott Morrison wrote (August 21, 2006):
Bach: Keyboard Partitas (Klavierubung I)
Craig Sheppard, piano
Romeo Records 2 CD set

5/5 stars

This Goes to the Top of the List of Bach Keyboard Partita Recordings

I had never even heard of Craig Sheppard until I heard a sample of a recording from his complete traversal of the Beethoven sonatas, captured live in a series of recitals in Seattle where Sheppard is a professor at the University of Washington. I was bowled over by it and even more so after I got the whole set. (See my review of that set here: I put Sheppard on my list of pianists to watch for, either in recital anywhere near where I'm located or of new releases. Well, this two-CD set of the Bach Partitas is just out and it is a pure joy. In fact, on the basis of this and the Beethoven set I have decided to automatically obtain whatever Sheppard chooses to record. There are only a few pianists who make that list.

These two CDs, available for the price of one, contain all six of Bach's keyboard partitas which comprise part I of his Klavierubung. Even though he was 46 when they were printed, they were the first of his works to be published. He published them himself with this inscription, "Keyboard practice consisting of preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, gigues, menuets and other galanteries, composed for music lovers to refresh their spirits." I must say this recording has done that for me; in fact, I had trouble starting this review because I kept going back and listening some more. It is not that I'm not familiar with the partitas -- I've played much of this music myself -- but Sheppard way with the music gave such delight that I didn't want it to stop. His manner is a genial combination of dancing rhythms, impeccable articulation (and, remember, these are live performances), great variety of touch, pulse and dynamics as well as, best of all, the intelligence, deep musicality and technique to pull this off and make it seem easy.

CD 1 contains, in this order, Partitas 3, 2 & 6; CD 2 has Partitas 5, 1 & 4. I'm not sure why this order was chosen. No matter. I found myself repeating various movements as well as picking and choosing individual movements so the order didn't much matter to me. These works were not meant by Bach to be played in any particular order, or all at once, although there are thematic cross references in the individual partitas.

Sheppard seems able to play in a manner that is somewhere between the ultra-refined style used in Bach by, say, Schiff or Perahia, and the easy, insouciant manner of Angela Hewitt. Certainly he does not use the dramatic staccato manner of Glenn Gould. He has some of the qualities of all these artists and yet makes his own statement, one I find deeply satisfying. There is a sweet musing, almost exalted, coupled with rhythmic aliveness in his playing that no one else brings to these works. The sound of his own Hamburg Steinway is one factor; it is a marvelous instrument. One has the sense that Sheppard, although playing before an audience in Seattle's Meany Auditorium, is so absorbed in the music that he is unconscious of it, and his absorption is coupled with incredible concentration, all at the service of his vision of the music. (By the way, one is not aware that this is a live recording from the sound except for brief applause at the conclusion of each Partita.)

A few highlights: I love the Toccata from the 6th Partita immoderately. It is often played either solemnly or bombastically. Sheppard plays it as an exalted improvisation with little adjustments of tempo and touch that one would expect in such a performance. In Sheppard's performance the fugal latter portion sounds made up on the spot. The concluding Capriccio of the 2nd Partita does indeed sound capricious and Sheppard emphasizes the quirky harmonic twists deliciously. The fugal Gigue of No. 6 sounds the most like Gould of anything here; this is appropriate because the main subject begs to be played staccato. Sheppard plays it at a fast pace and yet articulation is pristine -- a marvelous bravado performance of the movement that concludes the last and most grandiose of the partitas.

I had to restrain myself from getting out of my chair and dancing to the Corrente from the 3rd Partita or marching to the Scherzo of the same work (even though it's in triple time!). The Praeambulum of No. 5 flows like mountain stream -- limpid, refreshing, alive. One of my favorite of all the partita movements is the Tempo di minuetto of No. 5 with its hemiolas that Bach uses to instruct and amuse. Sheppard plays it in a delicate slightly detache style and manages to surprise us with the metric changes every darn time. This is real musicianship!

I could go on, but I'll stop with my high praise for all of the gigues from the individual partitas. I think it is here that we hear all of Sheppard's virtues undiluted. There is no pecking or stabbing at the piano as one sometimes hears, but there is also no deadening legato. Somehow he manages to keep the rhythms and phrasing alive with minute adjustments of touch and pulse. Amazing!

This set belongs in the collection of anyone who loves these pieces, no matter what other versions they already have.

A most urgent recommendation.

[Note to self: Find and buy Sheppard's recordings of the Goldbergs (BWV 988), the Diabellis and his Scarlatti CD.]


Feedback to the Review

Bernard Chasan wrote (August 24, 2006):
You are persuasive!! I ordered both the Bach and the Beethoven Sonata set - directly -as you suggested in your review.

John J. Kregarman wrote (August 26, 2006):
Interested in Craig Sheppard recordings as I am? It's a new world. I went to and following the links was able to purchase Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann recordings directly from him! All recordings are from live concerts. The Diabelli Variations (which, by the way came personally autographed) are excellent - equal to the sonata recordings I all ready had - and the rest are eagerly anticipated.


Partitas BWV 825 830: Details
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Partitas - P. Anderszewski [McElhearn] | Partitas - P. Anderszewski [Satz] | Partitas - L. Corolan & I. Kipnis | Partitas - E. Feller 1 | Partitas - E. Parmentier |Partitas - A. Rangell | GV & Partitas - K. Richter | Partitas - B. Roberts | Partitas - S. Ross | Partitas - C. Rousset | Partitas - S. Sager | Partitas - C. Sheppard [Morrison] | Partitas - C. Sheppard [Satz] | Partitas - J.L. Steuerman | Partitas - M. Suzuki [McElhearn] | Partitas - M. Suzuki [Henderson] | Partitas - C. Tiberghien | Partitas - R. Troeger | Partitas - B. Verlet | Partitas - K. Weiss | Rübsam - Part 2 | Rübsam - Part 3

Craig Sheppard: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Craig Sheppard plays Bach Keyboard Partitas [Morrison] | An Outstanding Recording of Bach's Keyboard Partitas [Satz]

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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