Jill Crossland is a player I’d heard of but don’t recall hearing either live or on record. On the basis of this CD, originally issued on the Calico label in 2003, I will be looking for other things she has recorded. She is from Yorkshire, studied with Ryszard Bakst and Paul Badura-Skoda. If I had to characterize the playing on this disc I would say that it is elegant, thoughtful, individual without being outré, and exceedingly musical throughout. I enjoyed this disc repeatedly and each time through found new things to make me go all slack-jawed at their beauty and their rightness.
In the Mozart Sonata in F Major, K.533/494 one is struck by how much this latish Mozart sonata presages the Romantic style developed by Beethoven. Having played this sonata myself I have to say that this notion had never struck me before. This does not mean that Crossland indulges in Romantic hyperindividualism or undue drama, but rather that she shapes phrases, particularly phrase-ends, and tone in a rather more 19th-century way that one usually hears in Mozart. The middle movement Andante is played on the slow side and yet the long line is maintained in such a way that one is kept in anticipation of where it will go next. There is a sense of inevitability at the same time one feels a kind of spontaneity in the playing; quite a skill, I’d say. The Allegretto rondo finale is played a bit on the slow side, as compared to other performances one hears, but with complete believability. One is more used to a faster tempo that contrasts with that of the Andante but Crossland’s approach somehow enhances and extends the effect of the middle movement. One realizes that Crossland thinks closely about formal architecture in a credible and insightful way.
Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 is generally subtitled ‘The Tempest’ and the general assumption has been that it somehow is related to Shakespeare’s play of that name, but in fact Beethoven did not call it that nor was it called ‘Tempest’ until after his death. Most scholars, including the redoubtable Donald Francis Tovey, now disown that designation. I make this point because Crossland’s way with the sonata does not emphasize its storminess, but focuses rather more on lyricism and elements of mystery or suspense. The sonata’s recurring upward, slow arpeggiated passages are played very softly and slowly and they function as suspenseful scene-setters. Others have done this but I don’t recall hearing it done quite so pointedly. The Adagio is played in a style that anticipates the kind of Adagio Beethoven wrote in the late sonatas. One holds one’s breath and time stands still. Those bass triplet tattoos again emphasize the suspensefulness of the movement’s long-lined arc. The finale starts innocently enough and has always seemed to me to be not of a piece with the rest of the sonata, but Crossland makes that beginning merge into the more agitated and increasingly chromatic passage that follows. A very satisfying performance.
The Op. 110 Sonata is one of the absolute glories of Beethoven’s writing. And it is one of the hardest to pull off, not because of its requirement for virtuosic technique per se, but because of its complex interpretative demands. The Haydnesque first movement is marked ‘con amabilità’ (‘amiably’) and it is certainly that. In Crossland’s hands there is also a slightly darker undertone. The sonata-allegro first movement is followed by a short scherzo that is indeed jocose. Crossland plays the movement a bit slower than one generally hears — it is often played at breakneck speed — and the benefit is that the one can respond to the movement’s rhythmic and harmonic surprises more readily. I had mixed feelings about her tempo but have been won over with repeated hearings. The finale is a sectional movement with opening recitative, first arioso section, first fugue, second arioso section, second fugue (inversion of the first), and brief homophonic and triumphant conclusion. The movement can fall apart into discrete and unrelated sections in lesser hands. Crossland has clearly thought careful about their interrelatedness; the movement may be considered as describing increasing despair and final acquisition of confidence and triumph. Crossland conveys the human drama with conviction and skill.
Sound of the recorded piano is just a bit closer than one might like, but it is not objectionable.
This is a marvelous recital and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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