Music And Vision

Yorkshire -born pianist Jill Crossland studied with Ryszard Bakst (a Heinrich Neuhaus pupil) at Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music and with Paul Badura-Skoda in Vienna . In 2004 she performed her Wigmore Hall solo debut, and in January 2006 she gave the John Ogdon memorial recital (also celebrating Mozart ‘s 250th birthday ) before ending that year with a debut recital at the Vienna Musikverein. Last year ( 2010 ), in a break from busy Europe -wide engagements, Crossland completed an extensive tour of England with a Dublin concert thrown in.

This excellent ‘ classical ‘ recital is marred somewhat by the ‘tubby’ piano sound in Divine Art recording engineer Jonathan Haskell’s work, especially as it detracts from Crossland’s direct, pleasingly gracious account of the Mozart F major Sonata , K533/494, especially in the opening Allegro . This sonata was written in two parts — thus, the two Köchel numbers. The Rondo: Allegretto finale was originally written as a separate piece, K494. A few months later, the earlier movements were written. Publisher Franz Hoffmeister requested Mozart join K494 to them to form a three-movement sonata, referred to as K533, adding a twenty-seven measure cadenza to the Rondo , making use of lower registers of the piano not heard in the rest of the movement.

Crossland’s Beethoven performances are ruminative and clearly considered, though her tendency to dwell on intermittent subdued passages may not be to everyone’s liking. In a less than irascible ‘ Tempest ‘ sonata (1801-2) I found my attention firmly held by this pianist’s musical individuality . Her striking pianissimos lend tragic beauty to the Largo-Allegro , maintained throughout the calm yet sombre dignity of Beethoven’s central Adagio . Compared with some big name pianists this ‘Tempest’ is not of the ‘ballistic’ variety. The concluding Allegretto is never allowed to run thunderously riot. Nonetheless it is marvelously proportioned, seldom lacking angst, and perfectly able to stand on its own considerable merits. In short I found this an entirely justifiable alternative viewpoint.

In the late sonatas, including No 31, Op 110, in A flat major, all comers find themselves in competition with (in no particular order) legendary artists Schnabel , Gilels, Brendel (age eighty), Edwin Fischer, Arrau , Serkin, Richter , Solomon , Friedrich Gulda, Wilhelm Kempff, et al. This century pianists Hélène Grimaud, Paul Lewis and others appear set to become tomorrow’s legends. Crossland’s presentation of Beethoven’s penultimate sonata (Opus 110) is consistently headstrong. At the same time her attention to its structure, notably in the fuga and arioso , is unwavering. Additionally she compels our attention with an iron-clad sense of purpose and dynamically nuanced phrasing until the glorious, sonorous closing bars. Her cognizance of Beethoven’s ineffable legacy is moving indeed. Moreover, the misgivings I felt about Calico / Divine Art’s sound when the disc began had long since evaporated.

Several decades ago emerging pianists deliberated carefully before recording Beethoven’s demanding final sonatas, Ops 109, 110 or 111. Today, however, more than a few youngsters tackle these sublime works without working tirelessly at a compelling viewpoint. Crossland is not, for a moment, one of their number.

From the brief solemnity of Beethoven’s opening Moderato cantabile , on through the short Allegro molto to a deeply moving Adagio ma non troppo and into the surpassing Fuga I was in thrall with what proved to be a distinctive, beautifully considered performance.

Crossland is a Steinway artist and the piano’s amplitude in Beethoven’s 51’01” share of this hour and sixteen minute programme was ideally suited to LvB’s sound world. Without hyper-publicity Jill Crossland may never be reckoned a ‘ legend ‘ but her instinctive artistry , warm musicianship, and established appeal to live, listening or viewing audiences appears beyond question, now and in the future.

—Howard Smith