Jill Crossland has the ability to present Baroque and early-Classical music with a depth of response that brings it alive and to make it timeless. One of her strengths is being able to command the full panoply of a modern concert grand without swamping music that was intended either for the harpsichord or, indeed, the fortepiano. One has come to admire Crossland’s Romantic and involving traversals with the colourful response of a pianoforte.
So it is quite a shock to encounter Crossland playing a fortepiano. This particular example is a Jirikowsky from 1824; thus it is an instrument from 60 and more years later than the last-dead of the composers represented here: Handel, who died in 1759. As the producer and booklet-note writer Ying Chang acknowledges, these composers would not have known the particular sounds this instrument affords, a “double anachronism” as Chang has it. A ‘third’ if one has doubts about the togetherness of this particular pianist and this particular instrument. Crossland and a Steinway can be glorious and expansive, a sense of ‘taking off’ while also being ‘inside’ the music. Here the Jirikowsky sometimes seems restrictive of Crossland palette and emotions; the sound of the instrument can be pallid and with a guitar-like twang. The photograph adorning the booklet’s back cover reveals this particular fortepiano to be in immaculate condition and it is certainly a handsome-looking instrument; its tone though has limitations and one senses Crossland straining to get the music through it.
Nevertheless, there are some wonderful things in Bach’s English Suite. The ‘Sarabande’ has real depth as Crossland communes with the music – this is a Crossland hallmark – and the fortepiano seems to respond accordingly with a more resonant stamp; and in Gavotte II another ‘colour’ is heard as once again a memorable incantation is initiated.
It is I think Crossland’s intense identification with the music that the instrument used here cannot quite cope with; the Fantasia cries out for more resource and variegation, although one can still appreciate Crossland crispness of attack, and it could be argued that a palpable tension is set up by the performer not compromising her view of the music despite the instrument being used. That said, there are times when one feels that Crossland should have worked more within the ‘limitations’ of the Jirikowsky rather than imposing her otherwise perfectly valid ’20th-century’ view of the music on it.
In some respects the more ‘academic’ Preludes and Fugues come off best; here the notes really matter and these are lucidly rendered by this instrument and with lucid sonority. A perfectly poised Prelude in D (from Book I) stands out, its Fugue companion revelling in grandeur; suddenly the fortepiano seems more open: a chameleon of an instrument. The D minor Prelude is played with athletic bravura.
Crossland certainly relishes the majesty and decoration of Handel’s Chaconne and the Scarlatti is vividly sculptured if too quick and not sentimental enough for this listener, some of the ‘wooden’ sounds from the instrument are rather irksome and Crossland hits a bit too hard at times.
So, mixed feelings, but food for thought. Recorded ‘live’, but without applause if the occasional audience-noise, and in immediate sound suggestive of a small venue, and revealing a dryness that is not always compatible to the engrossment that Crossland has shown on ‘modern’ pianos. Here she seems to try too hard, at times, yet there is plenty of the ‘Crossland magic’ to be savoured as well.