This very rewarding set of performances by Jill Crossland is played on the 1824 Jirikowsky fortepiano at Restoration House in historic Rochester. Restoration House comprises two medieval buildings which in the latter part of the 16th century were combined as a mansion house in the heart of Rochester. Its fame comes from being the home of Miss Havisham in the Charles Dickens novel “Great Expectations”. Its name is derived from the fact that King Charles II used it as an overnight base on the eve of the Restoration.
The Jirikowsky fortepiano, although a Moravian instrument, has the qualities of a Viennese fortepiano. Built in 1824, this fortepiano has pedal action entirely absent from the type of fortepiano that Bach was familiar with, namely a 1746 Gottfried Silbermann that we know Bach had played. However, Jill Crossland makes only minimal use of the pedals, mitigating the differences between the two instruments. The Jirikowsky has an attractive woody tone, admirable depth, and only slight mechanical noise action.
Crossland is a young adult keyboard artist who primarily concentrates on music of the 18th century. She received her training at Chethams and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester; other notable instruction was given by Paul Badura-Skoda in Vienna. Crossland’s recent concert schedule in the UK has been a busy one, including occasional appearances at the South Bank in London and two at Wigmore Hall in 2004. She also has a few recordings to her credit with discs of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach on the Calico Classics label and a Warner Apex recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Crossland is currently working on a recording of Bach’s complete Well Tempered Clavier, and I am eagerly awaiting its release.
Crossland’s style of playing on this Divine Arts disc is highly demonstrative with powerful bass strokes, strongly articulated phrasing and incisive accenting. She pushes the music forward at every opportunity, and the buoyancy of her rhythmic patterns is very impressive. At the same time, Crossland can be tender, elegant and poignant when the scores demand such responses. Still, soft coaxing of the music is not what Crossland is all about; it is strength, boldness and a rather primitive display of emotion that informs her interpretations. Most extraordinary is an extra reservoir of power that explodes from Crossland’s hands at the most advantageous moments. Also, the detail and conversational elements among the myriad of voices are constant pleasures throughout the program.
Naturally, Crossland’s interpretive style will not be to everyone’s liking. What strikes me as most important is whether she has chosen a program that fits well with her approach. In this case, the answer is clearly in the affirmative. Bach’s English Suite No. 3 easily handles her strong approach, and the Fantasia in C minor and most of the selections from the Well Tempered Clavier are tailor-made for her style. Handel’s Chaconne is also a fine piece for Crossland, and even the gentle Scarlatti Sonata in E major well absorbs the greater urgency that Crossland offers.
I’d like to utilize the English Suite in G minor as a barometer of Crossland’s playing, because it is the work on the disc that covers the widest array of architecture and emotional breadth. In six movements, it begins with a decisive and quick Prelude combining great joy and tension; Crossland offers incisive bass strokes and a macabre atmosphere without sacrificing the music’s lyricism. The second movement Allemande contrasts tenderness with urgent refrains in a reflective cocoon, and Crossland’s poignant inflections and pin-point articulation in a performance of moderate tempo are a joy to experience. Next is the French-style Courante with its quick pacing, exuberance, and strong forward drive; Crossland gives it a relatively straightforward and mainstream interpretation with abundant momentum and detailed conversation among voices. The fourth movement is an introspective Sarabande of serious dialogue highlighted by extensive and embellishments capped off by Les agrements which are figurations and embellishments more elaborate than in the Sarabande proper and that are used to ensure a varied repeat of themes. More than any other piece on the program, the Sarabande is “thinking” music, rich in emotional content and requiring many listenings to uncover its glories. Crossland provides an exceptional performance where she luxuriates in the music while weaving a host of scenarios, and her strong articulation makes for a confident interpretation of storytelling proportion.
The fifth movement of the English Suite is a French dance called the Gavotte, and Bach offers it in ABA form. The first section is fast, powerful and tense, the second quite tender and inward. Crossland’s first section displays excellent rhythmic vitality with plentiful tension, while her second section is gentle and mesmerizing. The final movement is a Gigue where the second section is an inversion of the first, a device not uncommon in Bach’s arsenal. This is the only piece on the disc where Crossland is a little tame and doesn’t take full advantage of the severity and drive present in the score.
In conclusion, Jill Crossland’s disc is highly rewarding and especially recommended for fortepiano enthusiasts and those who have no problem with a Bach of strong demeanor. With clear and detailed sonics, I would consider the recording essential except for one consideration. As the program progresses, a cumulative impact creeps in of Crossland pushing the music too hard. With this in mind, I recommend that the entire disc not be played at one sitting.
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