Jill and Neil Crossland at the Purcell Room – 25th May

Toccata in D, BWV 912
English Suite in A minor, BWV 807
Vallée d’Obermann (Années de pèlerinage – Première année: Suisse)
Rapsodie Espagnole
Spanish Dances, Op.12
Neil Crossland
Paganini Variations, Op.35
Arrangements of Liberace and Mozart

Jill and Neil Crossland (piano/piano duo)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 25 May, 2002
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Two people sitting at one piano, especially when playing trifles, suggests the drawing room, something intimate for a few friends. On such occasions criticism is disarmed; however, bringing this domestic pleasure into the concert hall requires as much consideration as a solo recital.

Jill and Neil Crossland, brother-and-sister, know all about independent careers. She is a solo pianist and accompanist, he a solo pianist and composer. Yet, the areas of their duo-performance that need addressing had already been noted in their solo spots. The second half of duos was a cheery counterpart to the perhaps overlong first half where Jill might have added another composer to her ’signature’ Bach and Neil offered more than Liszt … or maybe the ’light’ stuff could have been intermingled with the more demanding.

This site has reviewed favourably Jill’s CD of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a summit of piano literature. A subsequent live ’Goldberg’ of hers was reported as being rather different to her recording. This doesn’t surprise me. Having heard Jill live for the first time at this recital, I can imagine that her view of repertoire is constantly changing, sometimes ’of the moment’, depending on circumstance.

The Toccata opened impressively: improvisatory, Romantic, Brahmsian, the piano full-toned and sonorous. Jill’s Bach is a study of contrasts, setting up the opposition of presenting him as a master of structure and counterpoint, and as a living presence whose music is expressive and dramatic. Sometimes the two extremes co-exist happily. In both pieces, her playing was alive and communicative if sometimes forced and combative – the closing movement of the English Suite needed more contrasts of timbre to sustain the repeats. Yet there are times when Jill enters a reverie, her head and shoulders fall forward and she is transported, so is the listener – such moments are special.

Neil has a good technique but is prone to play too loud, too soon, too often. Liszt needs not only display but also acute interpretation that goes beyond the notes. Alfred Brendel has spoken of Vallée d’Obermann as “a vehicle for grandiose introspection and personal confession,” a view contradicted by Neil’s rather inconsequential rendition. The showier Spanish Rhapsody needs virtuosity, which Neil has, and should teem with individuality and glitter. Just a few weeks ago I heard Mikko Merjanen play it during his semi-final appearance at the London International Piano Competition, as ’straight’ as Neil’s conception but with a range of colour, inflection and characterisation that Neil has yet to find.

As The Crossland Piano Duo, Jill and Neil have an attractive relationship based on filial interaction, although they are not the last word in subtlety. The second half was a pleasant enough hour albeit Moszkowski’s charming Spanish Dances could have been more teased and variegated, and I am utterly mystified why Jill was so violent with a couple of accents in the transcription of the Mozart C major concerto’s “Elvira Madigan” movement.

Neil’s variations on the much-used Paganini tune (violin Caprice No.24) nodded towards those by Brahms, Rachmaninov and Lutoslawski. Transcriptions of Lecuona and Hernandez “taken note for note from Liberace’s own interpretation” brought excessively hard glissandos – and also the phrasal and rhythmic insouciance I had been craving at other times during the evening.

For encores Charles Williams’s Dream of Olwen (from the 1947 film “While I Live”) and Percy Grainger’s English Country Gardens completed the concert, one that with tamed dynamics, more ingratiating phrasing, less aggression and something additionally examined would have been consistently more pleasurable and involving.

  • Read review of Jill Crossland’s Bach CD here
  • Read review of Jill’s ’live’ Goldberg Variations here

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