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Bach, Handel & Scarlatti

Bach: English Suite No 3 BWV808, Fantasia in C minor BWV906,
Preludes and Fugues Bk 1: C minor, D major, D minor; Bk 2: D minor
Handel: Chaconne in G major HWV435
Scarlatti: Sonata in E major Kk380

Jill Crossland live at Restoration House (Fortepiano by Jiriowsky, 1824)

Divine Art 25036 (recorded 26 February 2005)

An interesting concept: the performance of Baroque music on a classical Viennese Fortepiano of the type that Schubert would have recognized.

The booklet note avoids the obvious cliché that “Bach would have wanted it this way” and gives us another take: “this fortepiano recital reminds us, of a critical stage in the reception of Bach, reminds us that reputations are sustained and modified, and that mortality freezes in time neither our picture of an artist nor the influence of his oeuvre…We can recall a particular soundworld on which Bach’s keyboard music was rediscovered.” So far, so justified.

It is possible to make this exercise a valuable experience, as shown in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s recent reconstruction of Mendelssohn’s “version” of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The performance-practice questions raised can enhance everyone’s understanding of the reception of this music and lead to a deeper appreciation of the music itself.

Sadly I don’t feel the same about this recording: it simply isn’t a very pleasant listening experience. The sound is very boxy and the listener’s head is placed firmly under the lid of the fortepiano. Immediately that places the listener on the defensive as allowances for action noise, etc, have to be made. More than that, though, if Jill Crossland had explored more of the fortepiano’s tonal colours and characteristics, I would have been able to enjoy this recording of a live concert as more of a statement.

Too often an excessive weight on the keys “breaks” the sound and creates an unpleasant harshness that, with the close miking, jars the ear. I really don’t know whether Jill Crossland had a long rehearsal period with the piano but I don’t feel she is comfortable with either the instrument or the acoustic she is playing into. Often gestures are overblown which pushes the instrument beyond what it naturally wants to do.

Jill Crossland is clearly a pianist with many interesting ideas and it is to be applauded that she embraces Baroque keyboard music with such relish. She brings more thought-provoking ideas to the repertoire than the seamless, automatic Baroque playing of many other pianists. It is just a shame that this present recording does not sit more comfortably on the ear.

Steven Devine