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Thursday, October 16, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Concert Review

Note to Sheppard fans: Turn off the cellphones!

Seattle Times music critic

Concert review


Craig Sheppard, pianist, in "Beethoven: A Journey" recital, fourth in a series of all-Beethoven programs; Meany Theater, Tuesday night.
This time there was only one cellphone.

Only one that was really noticeable, that is, in pianist Craig Sheppard's Tuesday recital.

When the nasty little ring was heard throughout Meany Theater, just as Sheppard was starting into the opening movement of the G Major Sonata (Op. 31, No. 1), the pianist directed out into the audience a brief stare that could have turned the miscreant to stone.

And for good reason. This is not the first time cellphones have rudely interrupted this all-Beethoven series. Their rings broke the mood of the beloved "Moonlight" Sonata in May.

Why, despite repeated warnings over the P.A. system that these concerts are being recorded live, and that all electronic devices must be silenced, don't people turn them off?

Those who were listening to music, instead of eagerly anticipating their next phone call, heard a remarkable program by a pianist who has much to teach us about Beethoven — his grandeur, his simplicity, his wit and humor.

All of Sheppard's trademark interpretive skills were used to full advantage: the huge variety of touch, articulation, texture and phrasing, and the careful attention to the shaping of each note. There, too, were the intensity and at times an almost manic energy that can infuse the music with a life-or-death urgency.

The intellectual rigor that Sheppard brings to his playing was much in evidence. So was the clear sense of architecture that led the listener through repeated phrases, a little louder each time, to a sudden and dramatic collapse — and then on to the next phrase.

By now, the fourth concert of this seven-part series, Sheppard has worked his way up to the middle-period sonatas. This program included two of the nicknamed ones, the "Pastorale" in D Major (Op. 28), and the "Tempest" in D Minor (Op. 31, No. 2), along with two other sonatas of Op. 31.

Curiously, it was the famous "Tempest" that worked the least well. Sheppard appeared to have lost focus off and on during that performance, especially in the first movement, when a lot of inconsequential missteps accumulated to belie his usually immaculate technique.

The pianist was back on form in the evening's finale, the insouciant final sonata of Op. 31, in which he teased the audience with extra-long pauses in those famously protracted Beethoven finales.

Afterward came the rarest of concert encores: Beethoven's "Für Elise," a piece butchered by generations of piano students, but tossed off here with eloquence and a lovely, understated irony.

Three more concerts remain in this well-attended series: Jan. 6, March 16 and May 28. Get out those 2004 calendars.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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