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.
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
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.