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Franz Schubert: The Last Three Piano Sonatas

Schubert / Sheppard
Release Date: 02/22/2011 
Label:  Roméo Records   Catalog #: 7283/4   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Craig Sheppard
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is virile, exciting Schubert.

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SCHUBERT Piano Sonatas: in c, D 958; in A, D 959; in B?, D 960. Allegretto in c Craig Sheppard (pn) ROMÉO 7283-4 (2 CDs: 118:18) Live: Seattle Read more 5/5/2010


Craig Sheppard’s highly unusual and personal piano style, juxtaposing strongly accented, almost strophic playing with a melting legato and intelligent use of rubato, makes something quite remarkable and different of the Schubert sonatas. In his notes, he points out something that had never occurred to me before: Unlike Beethoven or Haydn, Schubert was almost thinking orchestrally in composing these sonatas. Even though I always felt this way about some of his chamber music, particularly the Octet and the String Quintet, this idea had never occurred to me before because despite the technical and musical challenges of these sonatas, the “orchestral” texture seems incomplete. With the great piano duo, orchestrated by Joachim and played as a symphony for many decades (Toscanini, among others, gave a splendid performance of it), the second piano part adds the kind of textures missing from his solo sonatas. Compared to Liszt’s transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, for instance, several passages in these sonatas sound rather bare, but I take Sheppard at his word.


One thing is for certain, though: Sheppard treats these works, not only in phrasing but also in dynamics, like symphonies, running the gamut from the gentlest and most wistful of pianissimi (as in the middle portion of the A-Major Sonata’s Scherzo) to grand, almost explosive fortes . To my ears, even Sheppard is unable to pull the first movement of the C-Minor Sonata together, but this is not his fault. This movement, to me, always sounds over-written, both the themes and variations too long and dragged out to epic proportions, creating a tempest in a teapot. True to Viennese style, a generous amount of rubato is used, but never so much that momentum is lost.


Sheppard’s playing of the B?-Major Sonata may be the highlight of this collection. It has an expansive breadth, particularly in the second movement (Andante sostenuto) that is unique in my experience and, when he then launches into the sprightly Scherzo that follows, the listener is almost taken aback: such a deep, almost melancholy mood followed by a lively folk dance. This Scherzo, by the way, is one movement I could very easily hear orchestrated as a symphonic movement. It has all the earmarks.


Sheppard uses a modern piano with greater sustain power than the Broadwoods of Schubert’s time (a Hamburg Steinway model D) yet this instrument, like Glenn Gould’s Steinway, has a leaner, more “clipped” sound than most modern instruments, which makes it sound closer to 19th-century instruments (at least, late 19th-century). He also uses the Wiener Urtext edition of these works edited by Martino Tirimo in addition to the Henle and Peters editions, which should please some of the historically informed coterie. These performances strike me as more musically and stylistically valid than any I’ve heard since the old Schnabel recordings, certainly better than the well-intentioned but massively overloaded performances made around 50 years ago by Sviatoslav Richter. It’s also quite amazing, to me, that every note was recorded in a pair of concerts given on the same day. The stylistic differences of these works are quite striking, and demand the utmost in concentration from both performer and listener, yet Sheppard pulls it off. This is yet another high achievement to add to his previous recordings of the Beethoven sonatas and Bach’s six keyboard partitas for the same label.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley


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The American-born pianist Craig Sheppard (b. 1947) is an artist who has made waves on both sides of the Atlantic; he moved from his native Philadelphia to London for 20 years after placing second (to Murray Perahia) in the 1972 Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. Now based at the University of Washington, from which Sheppard also makes regular concert tours - particularly in the Far East - he has applied his formidable intellect and his brilliant technique to a notable series of recitals like this one, all of them recorded live. See www.craigsheppard.net for a complete discography.

This recording makes a good case for Sheppard’s claim that the final three Schubert sonatas should be considered as a unity. As one listens to these two discs, the similarities and internal references become quite clear. An example is the opening theme of the B Flat sonata and the second theme of the c minor sonata’s first movement. More important than these minutiae, however, is the quality of Sheppard’s interpretation: the songlike quality of the right hand, the beautifully natural waxing and waning of the themes and the development, and the simplicity and elegance of the phrasing.

This is virile, exciting Schubert, as well; Sheppard provides a supercharged intensity in the stormier sections. The D.959 is particularly full of vivid contrasts. Here and elsewhere, Sheppard commands some real thunder-power along with the thoughtfulness and intelligence of his interpretations.

This reviewer also heard the live concert performance of this recording. The clarity and colors of the recorded sound are remarkably close to the effect of sitting in the balcony at the University of Washington’s superb 1,200-seat Meany Theater, a space that is virtually ideal for a piano recital.

-- Melinda Bargreen, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Piano in C minor, D 958 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 31 Minutes 12 Secs. 
2.
Sonata for Piano in A major, D 959 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 39 Minutes 14 Secs. 
3.
Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 41 Minutes 57 Secs. 
4.
Allegretto for Piano in C minor, D 915 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Craig Sheppard (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1827; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 5 Minutes 13 Secs. 

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