Track Listings

Bach The Well Tempered Clavier, Book II

The latest in Sheppard's highly acclaimed Bach series, recorded live in Seattle's Meany Theater in April, 2008. A must for all Bach collectors and connoisseurs of this great repertoire.

2 CDs
$30.00 (plus shipping).

Gramophone Review

International Record Review

MusicWeb International Review

Bach The Well Tempered Clavier, Book II, CD 1

Sample Clips (30 seconds)  (Listen to CD 2)

Gramophone Review

The Well-Tempered Clavier
Book Two, BWV870-893

Craig Sheppard pf
Roméo Records (F) (2) 7269/70 (153' DDD)

Impressive pinpoint accuracy in readings which get even better with each listen

Craig Sheppard's intense concentration and pinpoint accuracy throughout the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 impress all the more when one considers that these are live recordings. Many of the Preludes reveal the lyrical, legato Bach style that Sheppard purports to favour these days, from the C Major's grandiosity and F minor's dulcet, episodic trajectory to the A minor's sharply characterised chromatic movement and the graceful, rounded A flat. I especially love the cello-like phrasing with which Sheppard brings the tenor voice to the fore in his gorgeously lit D sharp major Prelude, while his unusually brisk, vividly accented account of the G sharp minor Fugue differs from the measured sobriety we often hear.

Yet plenty of dry, détaché, non-legato playing abounds. Sometimes Sheppard serves it up with intimacy and humour, such as in the conversational repartee he evokes in the G major Prelude and Fugue.

His unusually brisk, vividly accented account differs from the measured sobriety we often hear

Conversely, the A minor Fugue's exaggerated staccato is hard to bear and all but impossible to sustain at Sheppard's overly slow tempo. And a wider dynamic compass might have made the G minor Prelude's dotted rhythms sound far less static and rigid. But these are minor quibbles. Sheppard's intelligence, commitment and formidable contrapuntal acumen pay further dividends upon relistening. I should also mention the excellent engineering, plus the pianist's own booklet-notes that address Book 2's interesting musical and scholarly loose ends.

Jed Distler

International Record Review

February 2009

J. S. Bach
Das wohltemperierte Clavier – Book 2,
Craig Sheppard (piano).
Roméo Records 7269-70 (full price, two discs, 2 hours 33 minutes). Website www.romeorecords.com
Producer / Engineer Dmitriy Lipay. Dates Live performances at Meany Theater, Seattle on April 21st and 23rd, 2008.

During the past few years, Romeo Records has issued a number of CDs by Craig Sheppard that have received high international acclaim. They include an outstanding set of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, which I was pleased to review for this journal in February 2006, as well as sets of Bach's six Partitas and the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. This last issue was enthusiastically reviewed by my colleague Patrick Rucker in January 2008, and almost all of what he said 1 could just as readily reprint here in discussing Sheppard's account of Book 2.

This is Bach playing of a very high order on the piano, and before readers start to complain about the choice of instrument, I would remind them of what one of the finest Bach scholars of the last century, Basil Lam, once said of the master's music: 'You can play Bach on a clothes-line with a few pegs and it would still come out as great music.' I have sat through stylistically impeccable performances of Bach on the clavichord and harpsichord which have reduced his music to the level of Telemann. What we experience in Sheppard's playing (as we also do with a few other artists who play Bach oil the piano) is – and here I do quote PR – that it is 'essentially lyrical, sparing of pedal, deeply considered and obviously seasoned through long-term intimacy. Most importantly, these interpretations emanate from the heart.' They do indeed.

It is not merely a question Of instrumental timbre but of musical intellect. Throughout these records Sheppard takes no liberties with die music, and from the beginning of this really distinguished traversal of Book 2 we are drawn into this artist's compelling view of Bach on the piano. Each of these preludes and fugues is given with no little sense of individual character (as PR also noted, though without using the meiosis I chose), and I do not propose to go through all 24 individually. Suffice it to say that, apart from playing these discs quite a few times over several weeks, I found myself, on checking one or other point, unwilling to remove the disc from the player without listening again to the succeeding prelude and fugue – Sheppard's playing is consistent in his compelling musicianship.

To give you a greater idea of what is at stake here, I must mention his superbly flexible approach to the C major Prelude with its attendant Fugue, so full of life but always controlled; the wonderful first repeat of the C minor Prelude and the excellent control of the static movement of the semiquaver figures at bars 13 and 15 in the same Prelude. Initially, in the succeeding Fugue, I felt a more legato exposition of the subject would have been preferable, but as the music progresses, and four parts become engaged, the character of the piece changes the nature of the subject in a way that convinced me that Sheppard was right and I was wrong. The clarity of his part-playing is wholly admirable throughout and in terms of characterization the change to the fughetta-like coda of the C sharp major Prelude is delightfully accomplished.

In terms of scholarship, there is much to admire and stimulate here, as those of us who have lived with one edition for many years will understand. For example, in the C sharp minor Prelude, Sheppard adds a mordent on the first F sharp in the bass (not in Tovey's edition, but in the Bärenteiter - I believe - which makes more musical sense): and so on; his tempos and voicing are quite enthralling and, in almost every instance, utterly convincing. As in earlier Romeo issues, Sheppard provides his own scholarly and literate booklet notes. Having drawn your attention to some of the details which have captivated me, I find myself almost unable to drag myself away from the profound musicianship this fine artist consistently displays. I urge you to investigate this for yourselves.

Hans Keller once said that all great artists, by the very nature of their functioning, are teachers. Sheppard is the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Professor of Piano at the School of Music of the University of Washington in Seattle, and his students are indeed fortunate to have such an artist as their teacher. I have left the most remarkable aspect of this release to last: these are live performances, given in concert; the audience is silent throughout, until, at the end of No. 12 (presumably an interval was to follow) and (of course) No. 24, they gave this artist the full appreciation his performances so deeply merit, and in which we may join.

Robert Matthew-Walker

MusicWeb International Review

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

Track Listings

Disc 1
Track Title Time
1 Prelude in C Major, BWV870 3:04
2 Fugue in C Major, BWV870 1:53
3 Prelude in c minor, BWV871 2:35
4 Fugue in c minor, BWV871 1:41
5 Prelude in C sharp Major, BWV872 1:47
6 Fugue in C Major, BWV872 1:48
7 Prelude in c sharp minor, BWV873 4:03
8 Fugue in c sharp minor, BWV873 2:53
9 Prelude in D Major, BWV874 5:32
10 Fugue in D Major, BWV874 3:04
11 Prelude in d minor, BWV875 1:36
12 Fugue in d minor, BWV875 2:34
13 Prelude in E flat Major, BWV876 2:29
14 Fugue in E flat Major, BWV876 2:13
15 Prelude in d sharp minor, BWV877 4:13
16 Fugue in d sharp minor, BWV877 3:35
17 Prelude in E Major, BWV878 4:27
18 Fugue in E Major, BWV878 3:51
19 Prelude in e minor, BWV879 3:53
20 Fugue in e minor, BWV879 2:51
21 Prelude in F Major, BWV880 3:13
22 Fugue in F Major, BWV880 1:59
23 Prelude in f minor, BWV881 5:26
24 Fugue in f minor, BWV881 2:31

Disc 2
Track Title Time
1 Prelude in F sharp Major, BWV882 4:09
2 Fugue in F sharp Major, BWV882 2:52
3 Prelude in f flat minor, BWV883 2:47
4 Fugue in f flat minor, BWV883 4:24
5 Prelude in G Major, BWV884 2:23
6 Fugue in G Major, BWV884 1:12
7 Prelude in g minor, BWV885 2:49
8 Fugue in g minor, BWV885 3:15
9 Prelude in A flat Major, BWV886 3:44
10 Fugue in A flat Major, BWV886 2:45
11 Prelude in g sharp minor, BWV887 4:57
12 Fugue in g sharp minor, BWV887 3:38
13 Prelude in A Major, BWV888 1:40
14 Fugue in A Major, BWV888 1:29
15 Prelude in a minor, BWV889 5:25
16 Fugue in a minor, BWV889 2:02
17 Prelude in B flat Major, BWV890 7:49
18 Fugue in B flat Major, BWV890 2:41
19 Prelude in b flat minor, BWV891 3:24
20 Fugue in b flat minor, BWV891 5:31
21 Prelude in B Major, BWV892 2:16
22 Fugue in B Major, BWV892 3:52
23 Prelude in b minor, BWV893 2:16
24 Fugue in b minor, BWV893 2:09


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