Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Jill Crossland (piano)
Recorded in April 1998, Vestry Hall Studios, Ealing, London
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: June 2003
CD No: APEX 0927-49979-2
This budget CD from Warner Classics (making widely available a privately produced recording) features the young English pianist Jill Crossland, a Paul Badura-Skoda pupil who has been included in Wigmore Hall’s Young Artists series and the South Bank’s “Fresh” recitals. Not that one would know this from the booklet, which gives absolutely no information about the artist and only manages to mention her name on the cover in 6-point type; presentation that represents triumph of design over content.
Do not be put off. This is an exceptionally fine recording, which has seldom been out of my player. Crossland’s is the antithesis of the ’precious’ school of playing Bach on the piano. She combines delicacy, clarity and muscularity in remarkable degree. Having heard Rudolf Serkin – another master of variation form – in both rehearsal and concert, Jill Crossland combines the afore-mentioned characteristics in much the way one remembers from his playing.
What jumps out about Crossland’s playing is, first, the structural integrity of her conception. For example, the canons which occur with every third variation, dividing up the piece and marking out its progress, are given with just the right emphasis and weight, like reaching so many staging-posts along a journey. At the close we really do have the sense of exploration being completed, and of returning home. Then the ’Aria’ itself, which frames the piece, is given with extreme simplicity, very slowly but so potently phrased that it resonates in the mind long after the sound has died away.
The Variations themselves are strongly characterised and use a wide range of speeds; some – but by no means all – are on the slow side. For example, the “Black Pearl” No.25 runs to a full 9’43″. However, there is a compensating rubicund buoyancy and energy in the faster variations, for instance in the culminating Nos.30 and 31. All repeats are taken, and often subtly varied. Crossland has the gift of finding light and shade in the part writing, everything voiced with quiet precision, inner voices emerging naturally to make their point without any underlining, the ear led naturally forward.
This CD is recommended with enthusiasm. At least I know what I’m giving my real friends for Christmas.