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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de Pèlerinage. Deuxième Année; Italie S161
Il Penseroso
Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa
Sonetto 47 del Petrarca
Sonetto del 104 del Petrarca
Sonetto del 123 del Petrarca
Après une lecture du Dante, Fantasia quasi Sonata
Venezia e Napoli S162;
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge March 1996 and October 1999

One of the facets of Joyce Hatto’s Liszt playing that I most admire is her refusal to splinter fortes through over-projection or, conversely, so to magnify and underline espressione markings that emphases become gabbled and Lisztian syntax reduced to bombast and tweeness. Her playing on the contrary is notable for its directness and sensitivity, its powerful technique and colouristic vivacity and she brings her considerable powers of characterisation to bear on this set of Années de Pèlerinage. I prefer her to Brendel’s last traversal on Philips because he lacks Hatto’s gimlet concentration and her fidelity and, unlike her, he forces straight through his fortes in a perplexingly wilful way. She evokes great tonal beauty and grandeur in Sposalizio and generates melancholy through clarity in Il Penseroso, albeit careful never to occlude the harmonies.

Sonetto 47 has intimacy, delicacy, fidelity and truthfulness; there is nothing percussive about her playing - everything is tonally scaled. Sonetto 104 can in some hands disintegrate in a sea of bathos or, less culpably but equally distractingly, become subject to wilful distortions of the line or of accenting. When one listens to Hatto’s performance one hears luminous tone harnessed to cast iron technique, a very special eloquence and sense of characterisation quite without exaggeration or ostentation. Added to these rare qualities are the alluring sonorities she evokes and the reflective stillness she somehow seems to compel of the music – as much as the music compels it of her. In Sonetto123 we hear renewed command of rhetoric and mood. She fuses a cool insouciance with the lyric, rhythmic intimacy balanced by animation and drive. The end, when it comes, is one of rapt stillness.

Her Dante Sonata has power and drama as well as passionate though not incandescent inferno drive. She maintains beauty of tone even in the most fraught technical passages and etches the paradisiacal elements as one would hope. Nevertheless she evinces what I think it’s best to describe as expressive discretion at all times whilst maintaining absolute security of dramatic pacing. Gondoliera is by contrast rippling and songful with some effortless right hand tracery. Canzone, based on Rossini’s Otello, is intense and full of mordant density before barely a pause unleashes the driving Tarantella based on themes by Cottrau.

She nails her Lisztian credentials firmly to the mast in this disc. Texture and drama are held in equipoise to the music’s lasting advantage.

Jonathan Woolf

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