Michael Sheppard Plays = WILD: Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; BARBER: The Daisies; St. Ita’s Vision; Nocturne; RODGERS: sel.; BOLCOM: Graceful Ghost Rag; CRUMB: Dream Images; CORIGLIANO: Etude Fantasy – Michael Sheppard, p. – Harmonia mundi

by | Jan 18, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Michael Sheppard Plays = WILD: Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; BARBER: The Daisies; St. Ita’s Vision; Nocturne; RODGERS: The Carousel Waltz; My Favorite Things; BOLCOM: Graceful Ghost Rag; CRUMB: Dream Images; CORIGLIANO: Etude Fantasy – Michael Sheppard, piano – Harmonia mundi HMU 907475, 71:49 ****:

This is another release from Harmonia mundi of a musician with the American Pianists Association. The program is excellent—mainly transcriptions, and tough ones at that. Earl Wild never makes things easy, and his Gershwin is tremendous, one might almost say Lisztian in concept. I don’t normally like transcriptions of songs, and I adore Barber’s songs, but Sheppard does his own arrangements of three great ones and they are each tasteful, idiomatic, and moving. Richard Rodgers has long had his music exposed to all sorts of ecstasies and torments, and these two by noted pianist Stephen Hough are exacting miniatures of exquisite poetry.

We then change tone a little bit, and enter into the exotic worlds of William Bolcom and George Crumb. The former grew up during the “rag renaissance” of the early seventies, and wrote 22 of them up until 1975. He claims that the Joplin influence will be with him forever, and his Graceful Ghost Rag, composed in memory of his father, shows that absorption in a vivid manner, though Bolcom is, as always, his own man. George Crumb, one of my favorite composers and easily one of the most inventive and lasting of the sixties/seventies avantgarde, wrote books of pieces he called Makrokosmos, and the eleventh piece of Volume One has a ghost-like reminiscence of Chopin’s music, hauntingly and to great effect moving through the wistful and mirage-like music.

The last piece is one of the most formidable, yet John Corigliano has sewn together five studies into one piece in the form of a fantasy which dies down to an unstable ostinato into nothing at the end—but that is long after some extremely difficult technical challenges have been tackled in this rewarding work.

Michael Sheppard plays with a flair and aplomb that are quite disarming, so genially does he seem able to negotiate the considerable complexities of this music. The sound remains very good, not quite as good as I have heard from this source (it seems a little compressed at times, but a volume boost helped this), but very clear and with decent warmth. I enjoyed this tremendously, and that is coming from a guy who generally does not like transcriptions. That should tell you something.

— Steven Ritter
 

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