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Debussy: Estampes; Images; 12 Etudes

Craig Sheppard, Piano
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

DEBUSSY Estampes. Images. 12 Études. Hommage à Haydn Craig Sheppard (pn) ROMÉO 7299/7300 (2 CDs: 91:35) Live: Seattle 4/15-16/2013

Following his fascinating album of Debussy’s complete Preludes, pianist Sheppard now gives us the same composer’s Estampes, both books of Images, both books of Études, and the Read more Hommage à Haydn. As was the case with the earlier release, this double-CD set reveals him approaching these works with his own feeling for both mood and tempo. It’s not so much that his performances are slower so much as that they are unconventional, but I happen to like unconventional and so I always enjoy listening to any Craig Sheppard release, and this set is no exception.

If anything, his approach to Estampes here is more extrovert than usual, and in my view this works wonders. The music ripples to his touch—you can almost visualize it—and this quality is carried into Images, particularly in “Reflections of the water” where it is especially needed. In essence, I found Sheppard’s approach to Images among the most refreshing I have heard in recent years, on a par with the equally marvelous performances of Juliana Steinbach on Genuin. Where Sheppard’s interpretations strike the ear as unusual is in his use of silence: the spaces between phrases and notes, rather than the notes themselves. His very personal approach to these pauses opens up the music in a way that some Debussy lovers will embrace and others, perhaps, reject, but they mark his playing as unique and will continue to do so.

Perhaps the place where listeners will be most divided is in Sheppard’s interpretations of the Études. Here, it seems as if he has taken the opposite approach to his in the rest of Debussy’s oeuvre . Not only does he not “open” the spaces between the notes, it almost sounds as if he has squeezed those spaces out. His performances here are strictly linear, almost Stravinskian in approach, as if the music came from some alternate universe where Debussy forged straight-ahead lines, directional and abrupt. It does make some of them come across rather whimsical, as may have been the composer’s intent, but there is no question that his approach here is radically different from in the earlier pieces. It’s also true that they were composed at a time when the two composers knew and admired each other, and also that when the Études first appeared in print pianists didn’t like them very much and found them difficult to comprehend. Whatever your personal take on them, however, Sheppard’s performances will certainly make you think about them, and that in itself is a valuable artistic lesson. Rather curiously, however, Sheppard returns to his more spacious style in two of the last three Études (“Pour les sonorités opposes” and “Pour les arpèges composes”).

Sheppard wraps up his recital with the quirky but interesting Hommage à Haydn, played here with an appropriately light and whimsical touch. The pianist has fun explaining to the audience how Debussy “found” the letters N and Y on the keyboard, and in turn the audience delights in the music as well. This is a fascinating and interesting take on one of the greatest and most famous composers of the early 20th century, and well worth your hearing. Incidentally, this is a specially priced two-CD set due to the shorter playing time of the discs. The label’s owner informed me that it retails for one and a half times the price of a single disc.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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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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