A really towering “tour de force” by Craig Sheppard at the Royal College of Music today.
Almost three hours of total concentration with the 24 Preludes and Fugues op 87 by Shostakovich.
Not only a real feat of memory but also his complete clarity of line allowed us,the public( with many illustrious colleagues present),to follow the musical discourse so easily.
In fact there was total silence from a rapt audience totally absorbed by Sheppards music making as they were led on a truly memorable journey.
Such total concentration and complete identification with this sound world was totally captivating.Each piece was given its own individual character but always considered part of a structural whole .From whispered sounds to sometimes almost overpowering climaxes there was always a clear sense of line and beautiful sonorities.
As if not enough Craig Sheppard was ready and eager to answer questions at the end .Such was his enthusiasm for this work.But it was the public that was completely worn out by the total concentration that had been forced on them by the pure conviction of the performance.Eager to share all his thoughts with other pianists gathered to admire the real mastery of this great artist who has at last returned to our shores.
Since winning one of the top prizes with Murray Perahia in 1972 at the Leeds Competition Craig Sheppard immediately embarked on an important career which until his move to the USA in 1993 was much focused in the UK , having infact perfected his studies here with Sir Clifford Curzon,Ilona Kabos and the late Peter Feuchtwanger whose death was sadly reported only last week.
Originally studying at Curtis in Philadelphia with Eleanor Sokoloff and Sascha Gorodnitzki and later working with Serkin and Casals at Marlboro he decided to return to Seattle as Professor of Piano at the University of Washington where over the past twenty years he has been playing mainly in the USA which on todays showing has been much our loss in Europe.
Shostakovich wrote his Preludes and Fugues much impressed by the young Tatyana Nikolaeva when he was chosen to head a delegation to the first Bach International Competition in Leipzig in 1950.
So impressed was he with her playing of the Bach ’48 coupled with the fact that he was allowed by the Soviet Government to visit, outside Russia, many of the places where Bach lived and worked, he was inspired to test his own ability in this genre.
Nikolaeva gave the first performance of Shostakovich’s mammoth work and it was Guido Agosti ( one of my teachers in Italy who had heard of her whilst on the jury of the Tchaikowsky Competition in Moscow )who invited her for the first time to S.Cecilia in Rome and spoke to all his students so admiringly of her complete musicianship .
So I was very pleased many years later to re-invite her back to Rome in 1991 to play the Goldberg variations in my theatre .
Expecting a rather austere person at the airport,on the contrary the most warm person like everyone’s favourite aunt greeted my wife and I .
Having recently lost her husband , even though neither she nor we spoke a common language, her warmth and presence were so overwhelming that she was opening her case to offer presents to us almost immediately.
One of these was her original recording of the Shostakovich that she dedicated to us.
She became a dear and close friend for many years playing amongst other things The Art of Fugue ,Tchaikowsky Sonata,Mussorgsky Pictures but fear the complete Shostakovich would have been too difficult in that period for the ordinary concert goer.
She played for us right up to her untimely death on stage in San Francisco from a stroke.The concert she was to have played for us a month later in the end was dedicated to her by her friend Gyorgy Sandor.
With so much music so readily available in our homes this difficult work has now become more accessible and so it is now very much in Craig Sheppard’s masterly mind and hands to allow us the possibility to discover this modern day pianistic masterpiece in the concert hall at last.