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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 8

Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat Op. 7 (1797)
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat Op. 106 Hammerklavier (1818)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge August 1995 and January 1998
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACG 8009-2 [68.29]



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This is the first of Joyce Hatto’s complete Beethoven cycle that I’ve heard. It has reached the mighty Hammerklavier and coupled with it is the early Op. 7, prompting speculation as to how Hatto would approach these two profoundly different works. The E flat Sonata opens well in those Fanfare thirds with Hatto’s chordal playing tending to a distinctly bass orientated sonority. She is lithe, alert in passagework, and constantly purposeful. It’s noticeable that in comparison with an older player, such as Kempff, she takes a much more linear view. Kempff makes more of the inherent potential for contrast (such as the Fanfare theme and the ensuing contrastive material) whilst Hatto tends to absorb them. Equally the older player exploits greater colouristic volatility, with humorous pointing as well; Hatto is more engaged on architectural sureties and in coalescing and cohering the movement. In the Largo she sounds quite brusque, abruptly cutting off her chords, clearly detecting in the music abrasive qualities not best served by generalised expression. Her playing here is straight in the best sense though I must say that I find Kempff’s narrative tension is stronger and he is the more explicitly touching. The non-Scherzo Allegro is well characterised, though I miss the stabbing bass accents of more interventionist readings and the gradual but inexorable screwing up of tension. If one were to describe Hatto and Kempff’s Rondo finale from its indication one should say his is more grazioso and hers more Poco Allegretto. Once again Kempff employs greater dynamic gradients and accents whilst vesting the music with more weight and colour. But Hatto’s is a convincingly unanimous reading.

I’d hesitate to call her Hammerklavier anti-heroic; perhaps anti-grand would be a better characterisation. Nevertheless the clarity of her passagework is lordly in its finesse and articulacy and I sense a thoroughly up to date sensibility at work, cognisant of all types of performance practice whilst being subservient to none. As with the earlier sonata she makes limited contrastive gestures in the slither of the Scherzo – and whilst there is little cragginess here she always makes sure architectural sense. The stormy trio in B flat minor is good, not visceral and the presto section pushes ahead well. In the great Adagio sostenuto one hears once again her Beethovenian imperatives – or, at least, the imperatives as they seem to me in these works. Her fingerwork is very special and her sense of recreative cogency highly developed. She employs weight of tone with subtlety but doesn’t seek to employ a huge dynamic range – it’s more a question of gradation of tone linked to a powerful technique and I wasn’t aware of any undue pressures on that formidable equipment of hers. There is therefore in her performance something of an absence of overwhelming tumult – this is a more inward and conciliatory approach – as is confirmed in the finale where the fugal entry points are perfectly clear and the compelling drama is played out with technique to spare. One avoids in her performance some of the philosophic extremes cultivated by someone like the extraordinary Ernst Levy but also the cumulative expression of such as Kempff.

The recording level is good – nothing is obscured – and the fine notes are by a fellow contributor to this site, William Hedley. I’d be very interested to hear more of Hatto’s Beethoven.

Jonathan Woolf

see also JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise Comment and Interview by Burnett James

 

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