REVIEWS:  divine art   25036  Jill Crossland Live at Restoration House


Jill Crossland proves herself a keyboard player of conspicuous quality, She is playing a fortepiano by Jirikowsky built in 1824. It is almost a pianoforte but not quite. On this disc it carries a thrilling sound. In four Preludes and Fugues from Book I of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Crossland gives lucid yet powerful interpretations. A higher quality of sound and articulation is maintained in the splendid Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906. In the Third English Suite BWV 808 Crossland’s lively sense of rhythm produces a sense of exhilaration.

Handel’s mighty Chaconne in G, HWV 435 is played with great conviction. This is a masterly performance following the composer’s powerful thinking with irresistible force. Scarlatti’s witty E major Sonata KK 380 provides a lively contrast. The whole programme can be recommended with confidence. Divine Art’s recording quality is superb.
Geoffrey Crankshaw

This batch of standard keyboard repertoire on early pianos has given unique pleasure and satisfaction. It is worth considering why?

"Authenticity" is only part of the story. Indeed, in a lengthy, fascinating and provocative commentary Ying Chang demolishes several received opinions about Bach, conceding at the outset that, for her newly released recital, Jill Crossland's Moravian Jirikowsky fortepiano of 1824 at Restoration House, Rochester, is something of a "double anachronism" for Bach and his contemporaries, just as is a modern Steinway. He reminds us of "continual rewritings of history and therefore relistenings to music".

Whatever, this engaging live recital (never an audience sound to be heard?) grabbed and held our attention. It is marked by Jill Crossland's "instinctively adopting an eighteenth-century sound" in Bach, with a fresh rhythmic liveliness, telling agogics and a predominantly light articulation, using but little pedal. Her chosen piano reminds us of the critical Mendelssohnian stage of the revival of interest in J S Bach (from Chang we learn that Mendelssohn jettisoned most of the St Matthew Passion arias !) and the sumptuous Handel Chaconne and Scarlatti sonata are just right as encores. I look forward to an early opportunity to catch up with Jill Crossland in live recital.

Piano fanciers are truly spoilt for variety and choice! Try hearing some of the sound samples available on the Divine Arts website. Despite daunting commercial problems, for discriminating collectors this is a great age in the history of the recording business.
Peter Grahame Woolf

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.
Robert Levett

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.
Don Satz

Jill Crossland has the ability to present Baroque and early-Classical music with a depth of response that brings it alive and to make it timeless. One of her strengths is being able to command the full panoply of a modern concert grand without swamping music that was intended either for the harpsichord or, indeed, the fortepiano. One has come to admire Crossland's Romantic and involving traversals with the colourful response of a pianoforte.

So it is quite a shock to encounter Crossland playing a fortepiano. This particular example is a Jirikowsky from 1824; thus it is an instrument from 60 and more years later than the last-dead of the composers represented here: Handel, who died in 1759. As the producer and booklet-note writer Ying Chang acknowledges, these composers would not have known the particular sounds this instrument affords, a "double anachronism" as Chang has it. A 'third' if one has doubts about the togetherness of this particular pianist and this particular instrument. Crossland and a Steinway can be glorious and expansive, a sense of 'taking off' while also being 'inside' the music. Here the Jirikowsky sometimes seems restrictive of Crossland palette and emotions; the sound of the instrument can be pallid and with a guitar-like twang. The photograph adorning the booklet's back cover reveals this particular fortepiano to be in immaculate condition and it is certainly a handsome-looking instrument; its tone though has limitations and one senses Crossland straining to get the music through it.

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful things in Bach's English Suite. The 'Sarabande' has real depth as Crossland communes with the music – this is a Crossland hallmark – and the fortepiano seems to respond accordingly with a more resonant stamp; and in Gavotte II another 'colour' is heard as once again a memorable incantation is initiated.

It is I think Crossland's intense identification with the music that the instrument used here cannot quite cope with; the Fantasia cries out for more resource and variegation, although one can still appreciate Crossland crispness of attack, and it could be argued that a palpable tension is set up by the performer not compromising her view of the music despite the instrument being used. That said, there are times when one feels that Crossland should have worked more within the 'limitations' of the Jirikowsky rather than imposing her otherwise perfectly valid '20th-century' view of the music on it.

In some respects the more 'academic' Preludes and Fugues come off best; here the notes really matter and these are lucidly rendered by this instrument and with lucid sonority. A perfectly poised Prelude in D (from Book I) stands out, its Fugue companion revelling in grandeur; suddenly the fortepiano seems more open: a chameleon of an instrument. The D minor Prelude is played with athletic bravura.

Crossland certainly relishes the majesty and decoration of Handel's Chaconne and the Scarlatti is vividly sculptured if too quick and not sentimental enough for this listener, some of the 'wooden' sounds from the instrument are rather irksome and Crossland hits a bit too hard at times.

So, mixed feelings, but food for thought. Recorded 'live', but without applause if the occasional audience-noise, and in immediate sound suggestive of a small venue, and revealing a dryness that is not always compatible to the engrossment that Crossland has shown on 'modern' pianos. Here she seems to try too hard, at times, yet there is plenty of the 'Crossland magic' to be savoured as well.
Colin Anderson