Craig Sheppard’s Masterful Art of Fugue

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Given Craig Sheppard’s highly distinctive recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Partitas, and the Inventions, it comes as no surprise that this pianist’s masterful affinity for Bach extends to The Art of Fugue. It’s a challenge to face more than 75 minutes’ worth of counterpoint in D minor and sustain a listener’s interest without resorting to exaggeration or gimmicks, yet Sheppard pulls off this feat with a sense of concentration that is comparable to piano editions from Angela Hewitt, Evgeni Koroliov, Charles Rosen, and Tatiana Nikolayeva, yet bearing its own artistic identity.

The fluid animation Sheppard brings to the opening Contrapunctus sets the tone for what follows; he balances the close-lying polyphony in a conversational, vocally oriented manner without undue underlining, scaling his dynamics with care. While the subsequent seven fugues proceed at roughly the same tempo (I personally prefer more variety in this regard), each communicates its particular character under Sheppard’s fingers. For example, he intensifies the momentum of the canonic writing midway through No. 5 by ever-so-slightly pressing ahead, while shaping No 8’s wonderful chromatic first subject with sharp yet well-rounded staccato articulation.

Sheppard takes No. 9 at a good clip, deftly navigating the hard-to-voice counterpoint, and his gentle approach to No. 11’s exposition convincingly differs from louder, more stentorian interpretations. And no struggle nor awkwardness betrays the three-voice mirror fugue Contrapunctus 13’s un-pianistic layout. Lastly, Sheppard serves up the unfinished No. 14 using a remarkable and stylistically plausible completion by Kevin Korsyn, who contributes annotations that thoughtfully and clearly explain his choices in the context of his predecessors. Korsyn’s completion alone will entice Art of Fugue mavens. So will Craig Sheppard’s immensely satisfying pianism and musicianship.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Koroliov (Tacet); Rosen (Sony); Hewitt (Hyperion)

  • Craig Sheppard (piano)

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