Jill Crossland

Five Short Pieces for Piano
Two Pieces for Piano
Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2 [selection]
Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata in E, Kk380; Sonata in D, Kk491
Pièces de clavecin – Suite in D
Ballade in A flat, Op.47

Jill Crossland (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 3 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Although a Jill Crossland recital can invoke a state of déjà vu in terms of programming, this one included enough novelties (especially in relation to Crossland herself) to make this an enticing collection of works.

The relationship between Glenn Gould and Bach needs no introduction; their juxtaposition in the recital’s first part was apt. Written in his student days, the seven pieces played here display Gould’s affinity with the Second Viennese School and are expressed with admirable fluency and concision. Maybe some wit, too, for one of the Five Short Pieces seems to quote from “Tristan und Isolde”. For what was effectively a first performance for most of the audience, Jill Crossland made a lucid and communicative precept of this unexpected by revealing side to Gould’s art.

And, surely, although the notes are different in permutation, in terms of intellectual rigour there is much to associate Berg, Schoenberg and Webern with JS Bach. Jill Crossland has made a speciality of his music, and has recorded Goldberg Variations and both Books of The Well-Tempered Clavier (the so-called ‘48’). This selection of eight Preludes and Fugues was quite some of the finest Bach-playing that Crossland has yet given us; technically patrician, structurally mindful, sonorously powerful and brimming with heart, Crossland welded to the piano in spiritual communication and compelling attention from the first note of a wonderfully otherworldly conception of the C major Prelude from Book 1.

Whether or not it was such a good idea, in the context of a mixed programme, to play so many Preludes and Fugues in one sitting is arguable; maybe four in each half with the Scarlatti sonatas to close the first one rather than open the second. Scarlatti’s astonishing invention was represented by two contrasted examples; however, the well-known E major disappointed in Crossland’s choice of tempos (too many and all a bit too fast), which fragmented the work overly and lost its delightful pastoral stroll and easeful linkage, the D minor Sonata was coruscating in its brilliance.

If 12 movements of Rameau were a few too many, there was no doubting the pianist’s sympathy for the many attractions that were laid out. One or two tempos could have been held back in order to articulate the music that little bit more, but the effect wasn’t hidebound and the movements were both colourful and illusory, Rameau’s particular sensibility well caught.

With Crossland being associated with very specific repertoire, even Chopin was a surprise. But for one significant miscalculation, this was a wonderful performance, unaffected and dance-like. It was a real pleasure to hear Chopin played without exaggeration, a through line, and with a lilt that made such buoyant sense. This was Chopin without tricks or falsehoods, and the music benefited significantly; if only Crossland has broadened the pace and made more of the conflicts that steer the piece towards its climax; here ‘quarts and pint pots’ came to mind. Crossland should explore more Chopin, the Mazurkas (especially) and the Preludes.

Encores were the first movement of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and a little something that I recognised but was unable to identify.

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