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J S Bach
Well-tempered Clavier, Book 1

Jill Crossland (piano)

Signum SIGCD113 [TT: 62 + 66 mins]

A welcome to the latest recording of WTC Vol. 1 on a Steinway.

Jill Crossland has lived for half a lifetime with Bach and his '48', performing them all by memory at college and maintaining her respected specialism - "the only composer to whom I can return infinitely often".

Her commentator Ying Chang does not go deeply into controversial matters, and relies upon Peter Williams to 'cut the Gordian knot' about temperament - unlikely to have been Bach's primary interest - and instrumental choice - the modern piano widely accepted - the starting point for scholarly debate about recreating the composer's intentions v. re-interpreting for today's changed conditions and outlook.

I am of the persuasion that Johann Sebastian's future lies with the more distant past and that performances modelled upon those of the 19th & early 20th centuries are tending towards becoming increasingly anachronistic, even as the years pass since 2003, when these accounts were laid down in Cambridge.

This is nicely recorded fluent playing, which I followed from my undated Peters copy (heavily annotated by Adolph Ruthardt) and from which in the '40s I learnt to play some of the easier ones as a child piano pupil. (At school, Preludes from the 48 were played regularly in Assembly; Fugues never!)

Jill seems to take some of dynamic indications from Ruthardt (or some edition rather like his), changes others, and exaggerates some more. For the 5-part Fuga IV Ruthardt prescribes a four bar dimin e rallent to a pp finish; Crossland however does a massive twelve bar rallentando through a whole minute! The justification for that demands some scholarly debate !

At that point Jill and I parted company - only to regain contact immediately after with her light, quicksilver Prelude V (Ruthardt, who leaves little to chance, wants Allegro vivace, crotchet = 132).

Is not one of the perennial attractions of Bach his openness to diverse interpretations? No way can a Bach performance satisfy everyone, nor any question about Jill Crossland's devotion to the cause.

At the end, it is a matter of feeling, with the other extreme being some who would deny the use of the sustaining pedal, and think that the clavichord (which has no possibility of climaxing with a ff doubled bass) is the right instrument... Rather than my trying to respond in detail to more of the 48 pieces of Book One (with Book Two promised from Signum in due course) I should prefer to ask for reader comments, please?

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also reviews in Classical Source and MusicWeb

Jill Crossland in Musical Pointers: http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/JillCrossland.htm