Jill Crossland Recital – 6 May

Partita in B flat, BWV 825
Sonata in F, K533/494
Sonata No.17 in D minor, Op.31/2 (Tempest)
Sonata No.31 in A flat, Op.110

Jill Crossland (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 May, 2003
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Putting together a Classical piano recital, such that individual works not only complement but also illuminate each other, is not easy. Jill Crossland succeeded – with a programme that effectively encompassed the range of Classical piano writing from Bach’s early maturity, via Mozart, to late Beethoven.

The Partitas are perhaps the most ’listener-friendly’ of Bach’s major keyboard works – less forbidding than the English Suites, less elusive than the French Suites and more easily programmable than the Inventions or, indeed, the preludes and fugues that constitute the ’48’. Eschewing the tonal severity of Gould or the calculated smoothness of Schiff, Crossland’s playing of the B flat Partita was of a clarity and subtlety to suggest a natural Bach interpreter. Moments of undue rhythmic emphasis – notably in the Allemande and Courante – disturbing the musical flow were as little compared to the seamless elegance of the Prelude or the supple gravity of the Sarabande. Bach on the piano has latterly been returning to favour, and with such as Crossland’s advocacy will continue to do so.

If the Mozart was less satisfying as an interpretation, this may have been because, as the most Bachian of his sonatas, it led on from the Partita almost too directly. In the first two movements, moreover, Crossland seemed hesitant as to whether the pathos derived from the ideas themselves or the tonal groundplan that underlies them. This inhibited the spontaneity of the playing to a degree that was not the case in the Rondo finale – here sounding not so much an appended item as of a different emotional sphere.Lovely playing throughout, however, with a touch which was deft but never cloying.

The Beethoven sonatas after the interval worked well as a pair, though Crossland’s interventionist approach to the Tempest brought its share of pitfalls. The ’Largo’ entrée into the main ’Allegro’ was elongated to the point of mannerism, drawing attention to itself on repetition in a way that detracted from the coherence of the movement as a whole. The ’Allegro’ itself had the requisite frustrated momentum but the ’Adagio’ seemed more preoccupied with delineating the identity of its constituent elements at the expense of their fusion over the course of the movement. If the emotional depths of the ’Allegretto’ were slightly underplayed, its inexorable rhythmic motion was powerfully conveyed, a ’treadmill’ of experience only provisionally silenced at the close of the work.

By the time of the late A flat sonata, subjective emotion has been refined into sound and gesture. The confiding ’Moderato cantabile’ was wonderfully fleet of foot, with the truculent Scherzo following in robust contrast. The ’Adagio’ (Aria) was raptly expressive. It was a pity that a memory lapse left the movement bereft of most of its first fugal section, as the intensified return of the arioso and exultant elaboration of the fugal ending were powerfully, but never overbearingly delivered – ending the performance, and the recital, on an undoubted high.

A brief prelude from the ’48’ (the B flat from Book One) was the appropriate encore to an evening rich in incident. Make no mistake, the piano repertoire – if it is not to ossify – needs exponents of Jill Crossland’s breadth of insight, with the thoughtfulness and individuality of her music-making promising much for the future.

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