Jill Crossland – Interview (Purcell Room recital on 6 May)

Written by: Colin Anderson

Word-of-mouth endorsements carry more weight than hype. When an informed friend gave positive feedback of Jill Crossland’s live Goldberg Variations, I took notice. Fortunately, Jill had made a private recording of Bach’s diverse work, which I found impressive and interesting. So too Warner Classics: that domestic CD is now on Apex 0927-49979-2.

Jill’s from Yorkshire, from Castleford. “It’s got a good rugby team,” she reminds me. Why the piano? “My mum used to play the piano and my dad bought one for my fifth birthday. My mum taught me. I picked it up straightaway, could read immediately, so they decided that’s what I would do. Dad made me do talent competitions – tell them when you grow up that you want to be a concert pianist. I didn’t know any better – but I used to get nervous about performing; I didn’t really want to be a concert pianist! They wanted me to go to Chetham’s when I was seven; I begged my parents not to send me. Eventually I did go, but I was eleven.”

An Edward Boyle scholarship took Jill to Vienna to study with Paul Badura-Skoda, a musician of similar classical tastes to Jill. His book, Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard, squares with Bach being Jill’s signature composer; she had the 48 Preludes and Fugues learnt as a teenager! “That was my father again. He loves Bach and made me play a lot of it. It gives me so much satisfaction in every way.” Jill’s anticipated one-year stay in Vienna became six. “I worked at the State Opera as a répétiteur. I just loved the city.” She also studied there with Sally Sargent – “Sally helped me with my technique, which is what I needed.”

Jill’s admired pianists include Gilels, “he really does have the golden sound,” and Richter, “he’s one of the few pianists that could do everything. I like Argerich’s passion and her self-criticism; and Radu Lupu, his musicianship is so natural.” Jill is busy teaching and expanding her repertoire, yet I suggest she is a reluctant performer. “If you give fewer performances you’ve got more chance of giving more. I find it difficult to sell myself; I’m not the pushy type. I like to do my music, and that’s it.”

Jill’s blend of commitment and musical identification returns to the Purcell Room on 6 May – Bach (of course!), Mozart and Beethoven. “It’s very bold isn’t it! I love Bach’s First Partita, such a beautiful way to start. The Mozart [K533/494] is not played all that often. It’s underrated and fantastic. I love it because it’s really contrapuntal. I think Beethoven’s Tempest is elusive; it never seems resolved. It was such a terrible time for him – his deafness, he was considering suicide; his spirit really comes through. Op.110 is my favourite Beethoven sonata. It’s triumphant at the end, after you’ve gone through this profound aria – it’s in touch with another world.” To my mind Jill loves playing music for itself – for structure and articulacy, not using the piano for display. “Music should speak and transport people.” With Jill you’re not pinned to the wall by an ego; she’s not a note-machine. “It’s improvisatory, I feed off the occasion and I like to feel that it’s not going to be another performance.”

Once again Jill has taken the initiative and recorded two recital-encompassing CDs that will be on sale at her concert. Sample copies, superbly produced by Jonathan Haskell, confirm the good vibrations that one has felt about Jill’s abilities. Should you purchase these CDs, don’t anticipate an exact replication of the recital in terms of rendition. While eminently studied and prepared, Jill can generate impromptu sparks – “I want it to be fresh.” Jill also wants the piano to sing. “Back to my dad; he always said that, he’s a very good critic. Don’t use too much pedal. It has to be lyrical, even in Bach. I think Bach would have enjoyed the piano.” Indeed. While Bach can be re-created a dry formalist, Jill makes him glow – “it’s from the heart.”

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