Track Listings

Six Bach Partitas
Craig Sheppard follows his triumphant release of the 32 Beethoven sonatas with this 2 CD set of the six Bach Partitas, recorded live in Seattle's Meany Theater on November 1, 2005. Read the rave review in Gramophone.

2 CDs

This item is out of print. Digital copies can be acquired over the internet.

Six Bach Partitas, CD 1

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

Six Bach Partitas Reviews

An Outstanding Recording of Bach's Keyboard Partitas

Donald Satz wrote (January 4, 2007):

If you've ever wondered what Glenn Gould might sound like without eccentricities, the Philadelphia born and raised Craig Sheppard is the answer. Gould's famous qualities of propulsion, contrapuntal mastery, pin-point articulation and perfect synthesis of instinct and intellect are on full display in Sheppard's interpretation of the Bach Keyboard Partitas. Most significant, Sheppard is like Gould in elevating secondary musical lines to an equal status with the primary lines without any loss of primary line projection; this attribute gives the dialogue a different nature that is consistently compelling and illuminating.

Are there any significant differences between Sheppard and Gould? Definitely. Sheppard has a more lyrical bent than Gould and his tempos (although quick) are more mainstream than Gould's. Further, Sheppard does not employ staccato as frequently or as strongly as Gould. As for Gould's infamous vocalizing, there's none of that from Sheppard.

Mr. Sheppard graduated from the Curtis Institute and Julliard School, experiencing his New York performance debut in 1972. Moving to England after winning the silver medal at the 1973 Leeds International Pianoforte Competition, Sheppard developed a strong reputation there and often played for the BBC during his twenty year stint on the other side of the pond. In 1993, he joined and remains on the faculty of the University of Washington as Professor of Piano while still keeping a very active schedule of concert performances in the United States, Europe and Asia.

I'd like to utilize the Partita No. 2 in C minor as an indicator of Sheppard's style in Bach. The work begins with a three-part Sinfonia that I consider a French Overture with a difference. Generally, a French Overture has a double-dotted introduction followed by a fugal section. In Bach's Sinfonia, the Grave adagio and Allegro fugue are separated by a highly lyrical Andante full of emotional longing. Sheppard offers a fantastic rendition of the Sinfonia with a forceful and regal introduction, his Andante constantly searches for answers and the elevation of secondary voices in the fugal section is thrilling.

The Allemande is similar to the Sinfonia's Andante in emotional depth and lyricism, and Sheppard again hits his target as he continues his quest for truth and justice; the concentration of his energy is amazing. Bach's Sarabande is one of his most gorgeous, and Sheppard certainly brings out all its beauty; I am again struck by Sheppard's tremendous focus on resolution of all musical arguments. In the Courante and Rondeau, Sheppard gives us two of his many examples of great propulsion, and his Capriccio sounds like a continuous stream of speeding bullets reaching their mark.

The Romeo Records soundstage is excellent - neither overly reverberant nor clinical. Sheppard's outstanding detail of each musical line is well captured by the sonics, and the depth of sound is admirable.

Don's Conclusions: Sheppard's is one of the greatest-ever recordings of Bach's Partitas for Keyboard. Sheppard is a man on mission who uses and needs Bach's music to solve the questions that have evaded us throughout history. In his interpretations, Sheppard always gives full concentration to this goal and never allows for detours. That's Gould also. So I give Sheppard's set the highest recommendation as it joins the top echelon of piano versions of the Partitas including the Gould on Sony, Tureck on Philips, Rubsam on Naxos and Rangell on Dorian. As an aside, Sheppard has also recorded the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas to great acclaim. Yes, Sheppard is a special pianist who demands your attention.


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: Amazon.com) 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 www.craigsheppard.net 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.


CD Review on musicweb

June, 2008

Link: http://www.musicweb-international.com

Craig Sheppard and Roger Woodward are contemporaries but their approach to Bach could not be more different. Sheppard is full of clarity, rooted in the dance, allowing voicings to animate and course through his playing; he is aware of the latest textual studies and has written a rather absorbing booklet note that alludes to the interpretative thickets through which a performer seeks his own sense of the truthfulness of the music. Woodward�s notes consist entirely of the biographical � there is nothing of Bach or his approach to it. His playing is not kindled by Sheppard�s kind of aesthetic; for Woodward, despite his daunting modernist credentials, is a Bachian Romantic.
I�ve chosen to reflect on the two Partitas that Woodward plays and to follow the ways in which both men respond to the daunting challenges before them. The Second Partita is a study in contrasts; the sense of improvisatory and romanticised freedom immediately established by Woodward in the Sinfonia is juxtaposed starkly against Sheppard�s architecturally surefooted control of the movement as a whole. If Woodward�s romanticism is rhetorical Sheppard�s clarity is analytical; the first isn�t overbearing, the second isn�t cool. But one could say that Woodward comes surprisingly close to Stokowskian grandeur in his responses. As one has noted before in Sheppard�s Bach performances � this one, as ever, live at the Meany Theatre, he is compellingly attentive to ornaments, to dynamics, balanced voicings and much else. It gives his performances fleetness and vitality. Woodward is more lateral, less inclined to probing accents and bass voicings.
It should be clear by now which kind of performance will appeal. Even when their tempos are similar it�s the crisply articulated incision of Sheppard that brings out the dance in the music. Woodward prefers romanticised character building � try the Rondeaux which is a controlled character study in his hands. For Sheppard the attraction lies in its crispness, its pellucid colouration, its warmly distributed melos. This absolute control of rhythm is most evident in the Capriccio finale of the Second Partita. The dextrous range of colours that Sheppard evokes is allied to a superb sense of accenting that gives the music impetus without appearing rushed. The precision of his articulation is frequently spellbinding � probing musicianship. Though there is only fifteen seconds between them the differences are absolute, Woodward�s horizontal eloquence emerging from an altogether different tradition, a richly contoured, but more essentially static, dance-denying one. 
The Sixth Partita reprises the qualities both men bring to the music. Once again Woodward prefers a reflective, quasi-improvisational Toccata, his rubati and accelerandi reflecting these tastes.  He bathes the music in warmer, rounded colours and with an inward, introspective feel. Their responses to the Air are striking, Sheppard takes 1:39, Woodward 2:08. But that is not the real story. Woodward is clearly more static and prefers affectionate warmth of sonority. Sheppard by contrast is crisp and aerated; the characteristics of the piece are entirely opposed. Woodward, in short, shows in the Sarabande that he is majestic where Sheppard is fluid. The rather stark romanticism of Woodward�s concluding Gigue is again contrasted with Sheppard�s culminatory, razor sharp, drive. 
Two final things. Firstly, Woodward�s  Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue is of a piece with the other performances;  a strong sense of metrical freedom allied to sonorous warmth and a Fuga that is controlled and assured. And secondly Sheppard�s remaining four Partitas are entirely reflective of the two under discussion here.
The two performances then are widely divergent. Their interpretative lineage however is evident. Woodward�s are readings of serious-minded warmth, somewhat slow, rather static, even stoic. Sheppard�s are performances of filigree light and clarity, borne crisply and with vital imagination. My own preference is pretty clear I should think, but others may not agree.
Jonathan Woolf


Track Listings

Disc 1
Track Title Time
1 Partita No. 3 Fantasia 1:55
2 Partita No. 3 Allemande 2:40
3 Partita No. 3 Corrente 3:12
4 Partita No. 3 Sarabande 3:04
5 Partita No. 3 Burlesca 2:13
6 Partita No. 3 Scherzo 1:10
7 Partita No. 3 Gigue 3:41
8 Partita No. 2 Sinfonia 4:15
9 Partita No. 2 Allemande 4:05
10 Partita No. 2 Courante 2:07
11 Partita No. 2 Sarabande 2:51
12 Partita No. 2 Rondeau 1:31
13 Partita No. 2 Capriccio 3:30
14 Partita No. 6 Toccata 7:59
15 Partita No. 6 Allemande 3:14
16 Partita No. 6 Corrente 4:40
17 Partita No. 6 Air 1:39
18 Partita No. 6 Sarabande 6:29
19 Partita No. 6 Tempo di Gavotta 2:07
20 Partita No. 6 Gigue 5:24
Total 68:07
Disc 2
Track Title Time
1 Partita No. 5 Praeambulum 2:13
2 Partita No. 5 Allemande 4:05
3 Partita No. 5 Corrente 1:53
4 Partita No. 5 Sarabande 4:56
5 Partita No. 5 Tempo di Minuetta 1:56
6 Partita No. 5  Passepied 1:36
7 Partita No. 5 Gigue 4:22
8 Partita No. 1 Praeludium 1:49
9 Partita No. 1 Allemande 3:14
10 Partita No. 1 Corrente 2:39
11 Partita No. 1 Sarabande 5:03
12 Partita No. 1 Minuet 2:46
13 Partita No. 1 Gigue 2:20
14 Partita No. 4 Overture 6:42
15 Partita No. 4 Allemande 8:57
16 Partita No. 4 Courante 3:30
17 Partita No. 4 Aria 2:03
18 Partita No. 4 Sarabande 4:57
19 Partita No. 4 Minuet 1:25
20 Partita No. 4 Gigue 3:59
Total 70:45

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