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Fortepiano & Square Pianos
The Divine Art Record Company

Full details, tracklistings and sound samples are at http://www.divine-art.com/

Bach, Handel & Scarlatti

Jill Crossland

[2006; Divine Art 25036]










Schubert & Chopin
Peter Katin

Schubert Impromptus
[1994 Divine Art 24112]

[1996 Divine Art 24116]





This batch of standard keyboard repertoire on early pianos has given unique pleasure and satisfaction. It is worth considering why?

"Authenticity" is only part of the story. Indeed, in a lengthy, fascinating and provocative commentary Ying Chang demolishes several received opinions about Bach, conceding at the outset that, for her newly released recital, Jill Crossland's Moravian Jirikowsky fortepiano of 1824 at Restoration House, Rochester, is something of a "double anachronism" for Bach and his contemporaries, just as is a modern Steinway. He reminds us of "continual rewritings of history and therefore relistenings to music".

Whatever, this engaging live recital * (never an audience sound to be heard?) grabbed and held our attention. It is marked by Jill Crossland's "instinctively adopting an eighteenth-century sound" in Bach, with a fresh rhythmic liveliness, telling agogics and a predominantly light articulation, using but little pedal. Her chosen piano reminds us of the critical Mendelssohnian stage of the revival of interest in J S Bach (from Chang we learn that Mendelssohn jettisoned most of the St Matthew Passion arias !) and the sumptuous Handel Chaconne and Scarlatti sonata are just right as encores. I look forward to an early opportunity to catch up with Jill Crossland in live recital. **

Peter Katin's disc of Schubert Impromptus is generously and fairly discussed in two reviews on Music Web. The point is well made that evaluation might have been assisted if at least one of the pieces had been recorded also on a modern piano for comparison (at TT 64:21 there would have been plenty of space on the CD! q.v. our report of Edmund Battersby's two accounts of the Diabelli Variations on Naxos). And MW has two more reports on Katin's Chopin disc, all four of them well worth reading.

What is special about these Peter Katin recordings, produced by Joanna Leach, is that the pianist's own instruments and studio are used - fine small, domestic square pianos of limited compass and pretensions, ideal for home listening. They are comparable to those on which the music might have been played and listened to in the early 19 C., and again with the Schiedmayer and Steinway upright pianos on which through the mid- and late-20 C I had studied and enjoyed playing all that music in my own homes - another twist in Ying Chang's "continual relistenings"....

Steinway Grands, which bring with them the auras of competitive virtuosity, large concert halls and modern studio perfectionism (and, says Katin, a standardised uniformity so that pianists expect more or less identical instruments on platforms in New York, Sydney or London) bring surprises only in minutiae of interpretation. It is not unreasonable that over a lifetime of listening ennuie and a feeling of over familiarity can set in for those of us who are not dedicated specialists. In olden times the music listened to was generally new, and keyboard instruments were interestingly individual.

Peter Katin's Chopin choice is cunningly geared to the limitations of his Collard & Collard square piano, and makes for a delghtful recital. I have enjoyed both Katin's CDs, though for Schubert on early pianos my current preferences would be for Staier and Olga Tverskaya. But here another consideration arrived by the next post, Cortot c. 1930 (prior to the early piano revival) refurbished with Mark Obert-Thorn's usual discretion on Naxos Great Pianists 8.111035...

Piano fanciers are truly spoilt for variety and choice! Try hearing some of the sound samples available on the Divine Arts website. Despite daunting commercial problems, for discriminating collectors this is a great age in the history of the recording business.

* Musical Opinion review: - - a keyboard player of conspicuous quality - - thrilling sound - - lucid yet powerful interpretations - - recommended with confidence. Divine Art’s recording quality is superb. Geoffrey Crankshaw

** Three opportunities taken to hear in recital Ms Crossland, who tours widely, have proved cumulatively disappointing. She has not been pursuing her interest in early pianos. At a church in North London she was hampered by difficult acoustics but her accounts of her core specialisms from the classical canon (Bach, Mozart etc) were altogether too generalised, an impression confirmed at Blackheath Halls (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin) where she found the Bösendorfer piano difficult. The Brahms Piano Quintet at Wigmore Hall was also found wanting, although it was liked by M P's reviewer on the night. PGW 2008

© Peter Grahame Woolf