The Yorkshire-born pianist Jill Crossland has well-received recordings of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier and Goldberg Variations, as well as a Rameau disc to her credit. Here, she offers a compilation of familiar, well-loved pieces. Never mind that most of the selections are warhorses; Crossland’s straightforward interpretations usually capture the essence of each piece, with textural clarity, careful rhythm, and sensitive melodic shaping.
She shows particular sympathy for Mozart. The vitality of the accompaniment figures and the energy in her playing of the Fantasia’s faster sections renewed my interest in the work, a standard student assignment. The Variations on Ah vous dirai-je maman (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) isn’t actually performed by students as often as one might think, due to the work’s technical demands. Crossland gives it a sparkling performance, with commendable left hand energy in the sixth variation and the Finale.
Her playing of the first movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata is less atmospheric and more Bachian than usual, with the melody’s triplet accompaniment taking on contrapuntal interest. The brief second movement that Liszt called a “flower between two abysses” sounds sprightly, lacking mystery, but Crossland comes into her own in the Finale, in a tempestuous, technically dazzling performance that ranks with the very best.
Beethoven’s op. 126 Bagatelles, a precursor of the spirit of Schumann’s sets of small pieces, receives a pleasingly unaffected reading, notable for Crossland’s careful inflection of melodic lines. Three Bach-Busoni chorale preludes conclude the program. Wachet auf sounds a little hasty once the chorale tune appears, with needless non-legato articulation. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland builds to become a big emotional statement, and Ich ruf zu dir is suitably somber. Dinu Lipatti’s famous, quietly contemplative recordings of the latter two have finer differentiation of voices and more controlled legato playing.
I have two overall criticisms of this generally rewarding disc. The first —subjective, and not very important—is that the program seems arbitrarily assembled, and the order of the pieces doesn’t make a particularly inviting listening sequence. The second has to do with Divine Art’s sound. The piano has a pleasing, full sonority within a dry acoustic that suggests overly close miking. As a result, the volume at quieter moments in the music seems very close to that of louder sections. I noticed the lack of clear dynamic contrasts while listening to the Bagatelles, which need them. Otherwise, there’s much to enjoy in Crossland’s sincere interpretations and adept playing.
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