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Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Concert Review

Latest 'Journey' powered by smart interpretations

Seattle Times music critic

Concert review


Craig Sheppard, pianist, in "Beethoven: A Journey," Part 2, Meany Theater, Monday night (next program in the series is May 21; 206-543-4880).

It hardly seems possible that a decade has passed since Craig Sheppard arrived in Seattle. The University of Washington faculty member almost immediately became one of the region's most interesting musical figures; he is marking his decade here with a seven-concert traversal of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas, which began with a triumphant first concert in January.

Monday night's second installment was no less exciting. This time, the lineup of sonatas included the charming pair of short sonatas that Beethoven himself termed "easy" (Op. 49, Nos. 1 and 2); three Opus 10 sonatas; and the remarkable sonata Beethoven named the "Pathétique."

The constant variety in the music was amplified further by the tremendous variety in Sheppard's interpretive arsenal, from matters of articulation and touch to the most detailed control of dynamics. Crescendo passages grew in volume and intensity so subtly that you were only gradually aware of the pianist's intentions. Crisp staccato passages gave way to the most liquid and smoothly articulated passages. Huge contrasts marked new directions in the sonatas. Sheppard compellingly re-created the innate drama of this music, with its whirlwind climaxes and dramatic conclusions.

The subtitle of this series, "Beethoven: A Journey," is accurate for more than one reason. Each sonata is a journey in itself, and Sheppard knows exactly where it is going — and he makes that knowledge clear from the outset. His interpretations command respect for their intelligence. His technique commands awe.

Monday's program had a few extramusical difficulties. One was a persistent fly that visited the Meany stage, bouncing on the piano's hammers and disappearing into the keyboard. Sheppard called for a piano technician to remove the fly, but audience members spotted the music-loving insect making its escape.

A second problem seemed to emanate from the piano itself, with the occasional muffled thumping that sounded like distant thunder. The noise seemed to arise from the pedals, perhaps in conjunction with a particularly reverberant spot on the Meany Theater stage.

The "Pathétique," not surprisingly, was very well done, but for these ears, the best playing of the evening came in the last of the Opus 3 sonatas, with its wide emotional range: from good humor to deep gravity, sweet simplicity and technical daring. Fortunately, a large and appreciative audience was along for the ride.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

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