Pianist thrills Beethoven Festival crowd

By Terry Rindfleisch/ trindfleisch@lacrossetribune.com | Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 10:45 am (Link)

Winona, Minn. -- Ludwig van Beethoven would have loved pianist Craig Sheppard.

Sheppard’s performance of two Beethoven works was out of this world Tuesday night at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival. It was a pleasure to hear a pianist who knows how to play Beethoven.

Considered one of America’s finest pianists, Sheppard was extraordinary in his performance and interpretation of Beethoven’s “Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli.” He displayed his brilliant musicianship in the wide range of techniques in more than 30 variations on a simple and ordinary theme.

These variations are rarely heard, but Sheppard is masterful with them and has recorded them live in concert. The variations are extremely challenging, but Sheppard makes the variations come alive and entertained a sold-out crowd in St. Cecilia Theatre at Winona Cotter High School.

The Beethoven variations took up the entire second half of the concert and was a perfect ending to quite a demanding concert. Sheppard received -- and deserved -- a standing ovation.

Sheppard, who has maintained a strong and enduring presence in the classical music world for more than 40 years, was fabulous in playing Beethoven’s most beloved “Waldstein” sonata.

The opening movement was so emotional and captivating that the crowd applauded enthusiastically after it concluded. The other two movements were even better with some of the best music Beethoven has ever written. Sheppard played the piece with joy and elegance.

Sheppard was a mentor for Ned Kirk, the Beethoven Festival’s artistic/managing director, at the University of Washington. Kirk said Sheppard transformed how he plays piano.

Well, Sheppard transformed Beethoven into something beautiful and satisfying.

Sheppard opened with a Bach partita, which was fresh and bright, and displayed a variety of styles that soothed the soul. Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in C minor” was a sizzling setup for the Beethoven pieces.

It was a delightful night of piano performance and music. With Yo-Yo Ma and Sheppard, the 2010 festival is off to a sensational start.

The festival continues Thursday with the Minnesota Orchestra presenting a free outdoors pops concert at 8 p.m. at the Lake Park Bandshell in Winona.