An interesting proposition: Bach, Handel and Scarlatti played on the 1824 Jirikowsky fortepiano at Restoration House in Rochester. In his insert notes Ying Chang suggests a double anachronism. If you take the venue into account, why not a triple? Of course I’m being facetious, and Chang too spends the better part of his space supporting the argument that this recital merely re-creates a time in history when Bach was still a marginal figure, his music performed (on instruments not unlike the Jirikowsky) only by devotees like Mendelssohn.
Which is fair enough. And as far as the effect goes, Bach and Scarlatti fare quite well: Jill Crossland is known for her Bach-playing, and as a student of Paul Badura-Skoda she certainly ought to know what a fortepiano is capable of as opposed to a modern instrument. The English Suite receives an expository treatment, with the lucid phrasing emphasized by crisp articulation and well-placed agogic accents. Perhaps not as rhetorically imaginative as, say, Murray Perahia’s approach on Sony, but convincing never the less. Likewise the Fantasia and the selection of Preludes and Fugues — although I did miss double-dotting in the D major Fugue. A nod to nineteenth-century performance practice perhaps?
The Scarlatti Sonata is particularly well characterized: despite this music being so idiomatic to the harpsichord, it has never really suffered by being played on a piano. Not so Handel’s, and especially not a piece like this Chaconne, which so obviously takes advantage of the sonority of the harpsichord . for much of its effect. This is a pity, because Crossland really cuts loose here, with a performance full of intensity and, at times, real pathos. It called to mind Alicia de Larrocha’s Decca recording of die Bach/Busoni Chaconne more than anything else.
This is a live recording, with all its attendant hazards. The applause has been
edited out, but the occasional cough from the audience is jarring (for example during the second Gavotte of the English Suite). The recording quality itself, while clean and unfussy, is not of the highest standard. But don’t be deterred: the quality of the playing ensures that this disc has far more than just curiosity value.