Classical CD Reviews

Jill Crossland, piano = MOZART: Fantasia in D Minor; Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je maman,”; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, “Moonlight”; Six Bagatelles; BACH (arr. Busoni): 3 Chorale Preludes – Joyce Crossland, p. – Divine Art

British pianist Jill Crossland offers a strong recital in the German-Austrian tradition, her Fazioli instrument providing a supple bridge between the salon and the concert hall.

Published on October 27, 2013

Jill Crossland, piano = MOZART: Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397; Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je maman,” K. 265; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; Six Bagatelles, Op. 126; BACH (arr. Busoni): 3 Chorale Preludes – Joyce Crossland, piano – Divine Art dda25111, 64:16 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

British pianist Jill Crossland, a pupil of Paul Badura-Skoda, recorded this recital 13-15 August 2010 and dedicates it to her young student Eli Mintz, who died tragically of cancer.  She opens her program on the Fazioli instrument with Mozart’s last and unfinished fantasia from 1782, discovered by his sister Nannerl in 1807. Speculation has it that Mozart likely intended to splice this free-form piece to another form, perhaps a fugue. Most of the score lacks tempo indications, including its three cadenzas. Crossland grants the music emotional pathos despite its brevity, and she plays the D Major last bars – again likely spurious and added by August Eberhard Mueller – as though it were a grandly dramatic last act curtain.

The 1781 Mozart Variations on a French folk song (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star)
certainly serve as a vehicle for varying touches and fingering techniques; the piece became a calling card for the late Clara Haskil.  The score demonstrates much of Mozart’s own facility in sixteenths, eighths, triplets, syncopes, and the switching of hands. Variation 8 is marked minore and moves into C Minor and a chromatic line worthy of Bach. The more virtuosic variations easily compare to what Czerny and other artful imitators contrived for the keyboard but with considerably less invention. Just before the last variation, which sums up the entire enterprise, Mozart slows the process down to a static crawl and then catapults us forward with bravura flourishes, trills, and a hearty, Jovian good-humor.

Crossland’s Moonlight Sonata enjoys a weighty lyricism without undue distortion of the musical line, and the unsentimental approach reminds us that its exploitation of the arpeggio means to serve as a fantasia in chromatic coloration on repeated notes, both ostinato and melodic, at once. The Fazioli piano aids in the realization of the light banter that marks the Allegretto, what Liszt called “the flower between two abysses.” Crossland takes a ferocious delight in the final movement, Presto agitato, with its potent sforzando figures, abrupt, and then rushing headlong to take up arms against a sea of troubles. Crossland manages to elicit a kind of mad dance from the tempest, nervous and resolute.

The remainder of the Beethoven group derives from the composer’s 1825 Kleinigkeiten (Small Trifles), miniatures and condensed kernels of rhythmic or melodic cells quite capable of Beethoven’s explosive drama. No. 3 extends a slow melody in high register, set in triple time, which makes it kin with the Hammerklavier Sonata’s slow movement. The B Minor No. 4 (Presto) touches the same explosive nerves as does the Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony. Crossland attacks this Bagatelle with ardent energy, slashing and jabbing into the musical marble as well as a moment from Michelangelo’s terribilita. A more tender Beethoven emerges with No. 5, a melodic idea, almost a ballad, ennobled by a folk sentiment.  Bold strokes from Crossland begin the No. 6, but it immediately resolves into a series of lyric gestures, rather operatic, rounded by an Italianate flourish. The middle section, rife with ardent bass harmonies from Crossland, anticipates the water pieces in Liszt.

Crossland ends with three familiar Busoni transcriptions from Bach: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; and Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ. Crossland avoids excessive “sublimity” in her realizations, choosing not to compete with Lipatti or Kempff for regal majesty of expression. Instead, these works, improvisatory in character, sing gloriously and fleetly over bass (organ) tones to emphasize their cantabile, stately and devotional directness of expression. Recording engineer Mike Hatch has provided a resonant sound-document for Crossland’s Fazioli, a balanced resonance between the salon and the concert hall.

—Gary Lemco




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