Classical Source

Jill Crossland’s pianistic pedigree includes study in Vienna with Paul Badura-Skoda, and evidence that she has learned much from that thoroughbred of musicians abounds in this absorbing and engaging programme.

Her overall approach to these works might be described as ’classically inclined’, with clear definition of inner parts and exemplary articulation of melodic lines. Mozart starts the disc and the clarity of Crossland’s purpose registers immediately. Her playing is poised and the tempo well chosen. Cadence points are given time to repose – a welcome change from breathless approaches. Phrases are shaped with care, and the lucidity of the writing may be fully appreciated through the definition of the playing – hallmarks which are apparent throughout the recital.

The ’Andante’ is expressively sculpted, and there is an admirable sense of one idea leading inevitably to the next. The repeat is subtly varied, and ornaments take their rightful place as part of the whole. The concluding Rondo (composed first as a separate piece) is possibly slightly on the steady side for the ’Allegretto’ marking, affording less contrast with the preceding movement than is implied, but again Crossland’s pellucid approach affords much pleasure in itself.

The piano is quite closely recorded and, whilst not oppressively so, some listeners may prefer a touch more spaciousness to the overall sound. On the other hand, the intimacy of the performances is emphasised – not necessarily an unwelcome quality.

Crossland’s classical inclinations give the ’Tempest’ sonata rather less irascibility than is sometimes the case, with Beethoven’s ingenious thematic writing brought to the fore. The opening is clearly a sonata movement, rather than a proto-romantic picture-postcard, and the musical development can be clearly followed and appreciated. However, this is not to suggest lack of drama; indeed, many of the quieter passages have all the requisite suspense, thus rendering subsequent outbursts all the more effective.

The ’Adagio’ is most warmly and expressively played, and the parts are once again carefully balanced and dynamics finely judged. Here perhaps the close balance is not ideal, but this does not detract significantly from a probing performance. The restlessness of the final ’Allegretto’ brings this questing sonata to an unsettled conclusion, with some of the chromatic writing appropriately disquieting, and the harmonic wanderings telling in their strangeness.

The Op.110 sonata is one of the supreme challenges of the repertoire. Not so much technically – although there are hurdles aplenty – as interpretatively. In this sonata Beethoven is more than usually specific in some of his directions; the intensity he demands of both player and listener needs to be sustained relentlessly.

Crossland beautifully moulds the opening hymn-like paragraph, and the subsequent melodic material arises naturally from it. Beethoven’s use of extremes of register does not present such a difficulty on a modern Steinway (as used by Crossland) as it does on a period instrument, but she manages to make these moments still sound properly arresting.

I applaud the less than frenetic speed for the second movement – marked ’Allegro molto’ but far too often taken as a presto – which enables the chords to be played (and heard) very cleanly, and the rhythmic oddities make their full, disconcerting, impression. The remaining movements are permeated with that ineffable sadness that infuses so much of Beethoven’s late music, and Crossland evokes this affectingly. The fugue is not delivered in a dry, academic manner, but is full of poignancy, as are the repeated notes in the ’Adagio’.

Altogether, this is a recital that engages the listener’s attention and is played with evident and commendable integrity. It may be enjoyed as a programme in its own right, the main drawback being the sleeve notes which are too earnest for their own good and grammatically distinctly wayward.

—Timothy Ball