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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Suite from Bach Violin Partita in E minor
Wohin? (Schubert)
Menuet from L’Arlésienne (Bizet)
Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Mendelssohn)
Lilacs (Rachmaninov) (1914)
Daisies (Rachmaninov) (pub 1940)
Lullaby (Tchaikovsky)
Hopak - Sorochintsy Fair (Mussourgsky)
The Flight of the Bumble Bee (Rimsky-Korsakov)
Liebesleid (Kreisler)
Liebesfreud (Kreisler)
Polka de WR (1911)
Etudes-Tableaux Op. 33 (1911)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded 1996-1999

It’s surprising how much can go wrong in the Rachmaninov Transcriptions. Listening side by side to recordings of the Suite from Bach’s E minor Partita it frequently seemed that Joyce Hatto and Vladimir Ashkenazy were playing a different work entirely. No-one of course can match Rachmaninov’s own recording, so quick and eventful, so pointed and vital, so hugely alive but whereas Joyce Hatto is elegant and full of expression in the Prelude Ashkenazy by comparison is very fast and brusque with an intemperate indifference to his playing. Hatto’s Gavotte is full of light and shade, singing a little like Rachmaninov’s own performance, gently humorous; sadly Ashkenazy, whose sense of decorum seems to have deserted him here, is without contour and inflection and crucially lacks vibrant wit. He is inferior to Hatto in the Gigue as well, failing to delineate the counterpoint with anything approaching her quicksilver naturalness. There is in fact no genuine point of comparison, so markedly different are their responses and the means they deploy to evoke the imitative writing and so superior is Hatto’s performance that Ashkenazy’s seems futile and morose.

The transcriptions are often of severe technical difficulty but it takes a musician to infuse them with deft and colouristic life. Thus Joyce Hatto keeps teasing rubati in her left hand in Wohin? and doesn’t overplay the minuet from L’Arlésienne. The miraculous Moiseiwitsch recording of 1939 is probably the greatest ever made of the high point of the set, the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hatto is full of colour and control and a real degree of effervescence. She vests Rachmaninov’s own Lilacs with a romantic halo of sound and the charm of his Daisies with even trills and tonal bloom. There is some glittering right hand, idiomatic and unstoppable, in Kreisler’s Liebesfreud – a very tough transcription (though it lasts only 6.35 not the knuckle breaking 10.50 as advertised).

The Études-Tableaux date from 1911 and were originally nine, three being subsequently withdrawn. There’s skill and understanding commensurate to the transcriptions in Joyce Hatto’s performance of them. The F minor has abundant rhythmic drive and the C minor an inwardness and expressivity in Hatto’s hands. She is suitably dramatic in the E flat minor and full of ardour in the E flat. She meets the fearsome demands of the concluding C sharp minor with triumphant skill.

These recordings were made over three days in a three-year period from 1996 to 1999. The acoustic offers mellowness but has sufficient clarity to the sound. Notes are helpful.

Jonathan Woolf

see also
JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise

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