Das wohltemperierte Klavier [The Well-Tempered Clavier] – Book II, BWV870-893
Jill Crossland (piano)
Recorded 15-17 August 2004 at West Road, Concert Hall, University of Cambridge, UK
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: SIGNUM RECORDS
SIGCD123 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 35 minutes
Since childhood, when she played “much Bach, including the more popular preludes”, Jill Crossland has found “spiritual nourishment and solace” in the music of the Leipzig master.
In his excellent booklet note, Ying Chang explains some of the history surrounding Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier (unlike for Book I there is no definitive score) and that whilst the First Book is definitely for performers Book II is more for composers in the way in which it shows harmonic possibilities in a more intricate way: Book II has greater complexity in its contrapuntal fugal writing than its predecessor. In this respect it is vital that the performer brings an inner narrative to these works as there is no point just playing the notes. The joy of ‘The 48’ is the limitless possibilities of exploration in both playing and listening.
What comes across on Jill Crossland’s discs is mixed. There are flashes of inspiration, where the notes seem cut anew. However, these moments of musical freedom and individuality are absent from the lighter, carefree pieces. The D minor Prelude’s buoyancy finds Crossland heavy-handed in approach and there are other matter-of-fact examples. With all repeats being played one would have hoped Crossland to develop ideas rather than, as she does, restate the material in a similar way.
However, the long B flat Prelude unwinds its pastoral ideas captivatingly. Similar thoughts initially coloured the G sharp minor Fugue, carefully unwound and developed only then to lose its seductive prowess.
Overall, this recording shows that Crossland is able to explore the extreme contrasts in Bach’s music whereas it is the subtleties of the ‘middle-ground’ that seem to elude her. The prevailing, imposing gestures that proclaim ‘this is Bach’ have the ring of worship about them rather than ‘listen and be absorbed’. I would turn to András Schiff (Decca) or Rosalyn Tureck on BBC Legends for greater exploration – but one admires Crossland’s devotion to the Bachian cause and my colleague Kenneth Carter was very enthusiastic about her Book I.