International Record Review

It has been several years since I had the pleasure of reviewing Jill Crossland’s Signum recording of Bach’s ’48’, Book 1 (February 2008) and commented upon her ‘polished and compelling account’. This latest recording, made at St Paul’s Church, Deptford in 2010, makes use of a Fazioli and comprises music by Mozart, Beethoven and Bach-Busoni. Perhaps my perception, that there are slightly fewer recital discs these days in comparison to concept albums and single-composer recordings , is a little skewed, but in any case it makes a pleasant change to be hearing a nicely balanced programme of stalwart concert works: Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor, K397 and Variations on ‘Ah , vous dirai-je maman’, K265, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata and Six Bagatelles, Op. 126, and three Bach-Busoni Chorale Preludes.

Crossland’s recordings have thus far concentrated on Baroque and Classical repertoire; indeed it is clear she expresses herself very ably within this broad milieu, possessing ample dexterity to pull off the natural brilliance and elegance of the music and consistently bringing to it a freshness of approach. Mozart’s Fantasia is a brief work, which, not unlike an onion, steadily reveals more of itself as it is unpeeled. Ying Chang, author of the booklet notes, alludes to Don Giovanni in summing up the operatic air of the piece, and within its bite-sized proportions Mozart certainly binds together sufficient musical material to sustain a couple of full-blown sonatas. The Fantasia, not unlike the Variations, is brightly coloured and dramatic in Crossland’s hands; with these two enchanting works she succeeds in giving the recording an immediate sense of purpose.

Crossland’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata also demonstrates an easy engagement with the scenic backdrop to this most popular of Beethoven’s piano-sonata opening movements, Andante sostenuto. The dreamy vista of Lake Lucerne is evoked without any of the absurd pulling about one occasionally hears in live performances; that said, there are some interesting Romantic gestures to the performance. Throughout her interpretation the Sonata quasi una fantasia elements are permitted to trickle forward creatively – springing logically from the Mozart fantasia, in fact – and yet the sense of a coherent overview emerges sturdily too. I found much to enjoy within the symmetrical framework of the Allegretto also, while the Agitato finale is a reassuringly feisty and well-propelled account: brisk and crisp, for me it is the best playing on the disc.

The Bagatelles – all terrific pieces in their own right, composed late in Beethoven’s life – are hardly recognizable from the previous sets, steeped in emotional angst and yet strangely reconciled in their structural clarity. Crossland grapples boldly with the music’s continual tension and release, impetuousness and repose, and I especially warmed to the Andante, cantabile e grazioso, which contains playing of thoughtfulness and liquidity.

The final pieces, Busoni’s ambitious reworking of three of Bach’s splendid Chorale Preludes, originally conceived for organ, are extremely well projected. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (after BWV645) moves along unerringly with a luxurious tone and assiduous control of the contrapuntal texture, while Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (after BWV659) is emblematic of Busoni’s modernist approach: it receives a Romantic yet carefully proportioned performance from Crossland. Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (after BWV639) closes the recording enjoyably – a personal favourite, indeed; it reminds me of the touch control I admired so much in Crossland’s Bach ’48’ recording.

Crossland’s playing has a distinctive and driven quality to it, which certainly brings a good deal of zeal and excitement to her interpretations, though just occasionally I find the playing a fraction too high-spirited and inviting molecularly more space to breathe in the brisker music. The sound is quite ambient but kept well within tolerance for this repertoire.

—Mark Tanner