Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in F major, K.533/494 (1786/88) [25:45]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.17 in D minor, Op.31/2 “Tempest” (1801/02) [27:56]
Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat major, Op.110 (1821) [22:25]
Jill Crossland (piano)
rec. March 2003, Old Granary Studio, Norfolk
previously Calico Classics CCCR101
DIVINE ART DIVERSIONS DDV24147 [76:06]
This recital grew on me. In the beginning I was turned off by some unusually slow tempi and the close sound of the piano, which really growls in the lower register. But the more I listen, the more I like these interpretations. I still think that some places are too heavy but I do like Crossland’s sincere lyrical approach, and would definitely love to hear this program from her in the concert hall.
The opening movement of the Mozart rolls and bubbles. The sound is grand, and you’ll feel that the music was not written for the instrument it is played on. Still, the playing is expressive; the left hand is well marked and has weight. Crossland finds more drama here than you’ll hear in some lighter interpretations. She also takes the second movement slower than the prescribed Andante - more like an Adagietto. The pianist demonstrates good Mozartean clarity: the performance is canorous, transparent and beautiful. The light clouds come and pass, and soft radiance remains. The ornamentation is delicate. In the Rondo finale, the childish innocence of the refrain is set off by the lyrical emotion of the inner episodes. Crossland’s tempo is flexible, and she quickens or slows it to emphasize and accentuate. I know that some of you prefer a strict beat in your Mozart, so be warned.
The Tempest is one of Beethoven’s most spectacular creations. Crossland manages to find something new about the piece. First and foremost, it seems that she has decided to ignore completely the “Tempest” association; it is indeed posthumous and unreliable. Her first movement is slow and viscous; it feels like trying to run through waist-deep water. I waited in vain for the customary lightning bolts, and at times wanted to shout “Please, please, roll, go for it!” On the other hand, it’s hard to resist this masterful suspense and the feeling of a great pregnant power, like a tightly coiled spiral. The Adagio is static, but with a sense of purpose. Its development is enthralling, though at times the steps are too heavy. The finale is also slower than usual, which gives it quite a different character. It is now a light, melancholic waltz, feminine and inspired, with occasional outbursts of thunder; a strange feeling. The music is more tender and serene than usual, it feels almost like Brahms. After a few listenings I came under the spell and, though I don’t think this reflects the composer’s intentions, I admit that this is a beautiful interpretation. All details are very clear, and there is a “butterfly” feeling of soaring on the wind.
After such tenderness in the finale of the Tempest, I expected Crossland to excel in the Elysian heights of Op.110. Indeed, the first movement is very good, with expressive accents and sensitive rubato. Alas, the lower region of the piano growls away. This spoils the picture and does not let the two hands blend well. It is like eating steak with whipped cream! I am pretty sure this is the fault of the instrument and the recording choices. The bold and bright Scherzo is cheerfully grotesque. Crossland’s performance has more hues than the usual monochrome range, and her careful presentation brings out many details. The spiritual heart of this work lies in its last movement, a strange union of a lugubrious Adagio and a passionately hopeful Fugue, which ends in a glory of bell-ringing. Crossland gives a compelling reading. Her Arioso really sings, and the Fugue is powerful yet humane. In the second instance of the Arioso, the bass is heavy again. This lends the music a different character, throwing a bridge to the Tempest with its subterraneous thunder; at the same time compromising its surreal glow. The ecstatic ending has excellent drive. The entire complex structure is very cohesive.
On the whole, this is a consistent and well thought-out recital. The order of the works is well planned, leading us from the youthful clarity of Mozart, through the turbulent passions of the Tempest, to the resignation and redemption of Op.110. On the other hand, the sound and some interpretive decisions made me frown rather too often. These interpretations represent an interesting view but are not definitive. Some of Crossland’s decisions are questionable but shouldn’t all good, searching interpretations be open to question? In art, there is no single golden truth, a single way of “doing it right”, and that’s the beauty of it.
A consistent and well thought-out recital that grew on me with each listening.