Review: Neil Crossland in Chichester

Neil Crossland, Chichester Cathedral, May 2

Last week a traffic accident prevented the bus from getting to Chichester so I had an unplanned walk to Bosham. This week there was no such problem and so it was ‘music to my ears’. Chichester’s Yamaha piano sounded in particularly good form but whether that was Neil Crossland‘s touch, a recent visit from the maintenance man or a trick of the light, I don’t know. Maybe it was all three.

Michael Haydn’s Polonaise in C major was spacious and unhurried and led to three more by Chopin, op.71. The D minor was immediately more assertive, glistening in its upper register but Chopin, like Mozart, is rarely far from a hint of darker tones. The decorative right-hand part in the B flat minor was frills and spills over a poised accompaniment and, like the F minor, declined to put in a big finish. That third piece was contemplative, a certain inwardness and restrained flourish making them all ambivalent and more complex than the pure order and sense of the Haydn.

But Neil had a bigger contrast planned and blitzed into his own arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain. Whereas Ravel orchestrated the solo piano of Pictures at an Exhibition, Neil has taken this stormy excursion in the opposite direction. He was immediately fast and furious, unleashing a torrent of elements to take us well beyond our starting place. 

At home, for company, I’d most often prefer the classical Haydn but there’s a big difference between home and ‘abroad’ and in the more dynamic situation of live performance, drama is better conjured than by any sort of recording. Mussorgsky (arranged by Crossland) thus dominated the programme, big, bold and blasting its way through until, like the rest of the programme, it finished calmly after the lightning flashes of its glissandi and the storm had passed, in an extended aftermath. 

I wasn’t always one for what seemed to me the contrived hysteria and ‘atmosphere’ of pop concerts and would almost always prefer the record, or even the radio it was designed to be first heard on. Music such as this, though, is much better in the flesh. Records are essential but a ‘record’ of a performance is what they are. At Chichester, Portsmouth’s Menuhin Room and Cathedral and other local venues, there is plenty of opportunity to hear the real thing. 

Neil went back to his more considered mode for a well-deserved encore of a Rachmaninov song, Op. 4, no.4, which is an entreaty not to sing but the piano still did.  

David Green

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