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Debussy: Estampes; Images; 12 Etudes / Craig Sheppard

Release Date: 12/10/2013 
Label:  Roméo Records   Catalog #: 7299/7300   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Craig Sheppard
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 32 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Following up his splendidly vibrant Debussy Préludes Books I & II, Craig Sheppard presents more Debussy culled from recitals held at Seattle’s Meany Theater. Beginning with Estampes, Pagodes’ dreamy pentatonic motives benefit from the pianist’s uncommonly firm, direct, and brisk treatment. He pushes La Soirée dans Grenade to the point where the basic habanera rhythm never really locks in, but a breathtakingly fast Jardins sous la pluie is supple from top to bottom, and characerfully clear, akin to the recently reissued Charles Rosen recording.

The pianist’s adrenaline settles for both books of Images. Mouvement’s scales and ostinatos boast a rippling sheen, while Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut
Read more fuses tonal delicacy and centered rhythm. Sheppard responds to Poissons d’or’s darting mood changes well, if not quite with Rubinstein’s effortless aplomb.

It is not easy to play all twelve Etudes in concert consistently well, but Sheppard’s superb technique and concentration allow him to do so for the most part. No. 1’s ironic five-finger exercise patterns retain more of their clavecin character by virtue of Sheppard’s spare pedaling and dry-point articulation. A few fidgety rubatos aside, No. 2’s busy double thirds convey expressive color and shade. No. 3’s slithery runs in fourths indicate that Sheppard has found his center, and sets the stage for some curvaceous interplay between No. 4’s right-hand sixths and often ignored left-hand counterlines.

If No. 5’s melodic octave leaps in the opening section are too stiff to soar, the central unisons that foreshadow Prokofiev are fluid and assured, as are No. 6’s eight-fingered patterns. No. 7 may well be the high point for Sheppard’s delectably turned and impeccably timed chromatic runs, so full of pointed humor. Those who expect No. 9’s ornaments to simply melt into the air as usual might be bothered by Sheppard’s highly articulated phrasing, which actually comes closer to Debussy’s markings.

By contrast, the melodic tension that Sheppard generates in No. 10’s repeated notes justifies his more expansive tempo than the composer’s Scherzando indication. Rather than skim over No. 10’s subtle tempo modifications and expressive nuances, Sheppard unlocks the music’s elusive yet profound qualities. No. 11 alternates between sexy and skittish, and would have been more sexy had Sheppard laid into those genius harmonies six and five bars before the end, à la Horowitz! However, Sheppard is one of the few pianists to play No. 12’s quick chord-octave jumps as Debussy notates them, with an accent on the chord and a staccato mark on the octave.

In response to his justifiably enthusiastic audience, Sheppard prefaces his robust encore Hommage à Haydn with a humorous spoken introduction. The pianist’s booklet notes not only discuss the music intelligently but also address specific textual ambiguities without being pedantic. Although there’s more bloom and radiance to Sheppard’s sonority than the slightly dry sonics convey, his distinguished artistry manifests itself throughout this highly recommendable release.

-- Jed Distler,
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Works on This Recording

Estampes (3) for Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Venue:  Meany Theater, Seattle 
Length: 12 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Images for Piano, Set 1 by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905; France 
Venue:  Meany Theater, Seattle 
Length: 15 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Images for Piano, Set 2 by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; France 
Venue:  Meany Theater, Seattle 
Length: 13 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Etudes (12) for Piano by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; France 
Venue:  Meany Theater, Seattle 
Length: 44 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Hommage à Haydn by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; France 
Venue:  Meany Theater, Seattle 
Length: 3 Minutes 7 Secs. 

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