With a warm, slightly
distant recording in the Concert Artist
manner, the first part of this disc
magically evokes sun-drenched Italy
as the romantics knew and loved it.
This is the Italy of Corot, Turner and
the Grand Tour, with Liszt the Byronic
traveller finding history at every turn
– Raphael ("Sposalizio"),
Michelangelo ("Il Penseroso",
a doom-laden piece if ever there was
one), Salvator Rosa (a more jaunty episode)
and Petrarch (the three sonnets). These
famous pieces are unfolded by Joyce
Hatto with great musicality and with
a humble awareness of their beauty.
A word of explanation
is required over the word "musicality",
for to describe a performance as "musical"
is often tantamount to damning it with
faint praise, suggestive of wholesome
qualities that fall short of "charisma",
and the various other accoutrements
with which it is sometimes considered
necessary to smother Liszt’s music.
I do not intend the word in that sense.
When the matter to be played is music
(a fact which it was still fashionable
to deny back in the days when Joyce
Hatto first studied all these works),
it should be the highest praise to describe
the performance of it as "musical".
I feel that Hatto would agree, so beautifully
does she realise every detail of the
score, yet with an awareness of the
meaning behind it.
I could stop here,
but I have actually dealt with only
the first six tracks; the Second of
Liszt’s "Années de Pèlerinage"
concludes with the massive "Dante
Sonata". Here a number of things
change. Liszt himself changes, of course,
bringing out, alongside many passages
of wonderful poetry, the darker, more
demonic side of his personality. But
also the recording perspectives change;
instead of the usual rather distanced
microphone placing we are used to from
this source, the recording is close
up and brilliant. We are not told which
pieces were recorded on what occasion,
but this one was clearly made separately.
It is certainly startling, coming after
the mellow sound of the Petrarch Sonnets
and some might find it too much so,
rather like some of RCA’s recordings
of Rubinstein. I must say I do not find
it excessive (I would at all events
liken it to the best of RCA’s
recordings of Rubinstein); rather, I
find it extremely exciting.
As a result of homing
in so closely on Hatto’s playing we
get a new perspective of her pianism,
but I think there is more to it than
that, for she is in truly awesome form.
While the expected poetry is not lacking
in the gentler moments, she throws all
caution to the winds in the demonic
passages, producing torrents of thrilling
sound (though without a trace of hardening
in the tone). This is a Liszt performance
to set alongside the greatest I know.
Back to more distant
sound for the "Venezia e Napoli"
supplement, yet here, too, something
is different. It stems, I think, from
Hatto’s realisation that, while the
"Années de pèlerinage"
volume shows Liszt at his most deeply
musical, this supplement – based on
popular Italian themes of the day –
is more sheerly music for entertainment.
Whereas in the greater pieces, the less
we are made aware of the pianism at
stake the better, here we should be
made to gasp with astonishment at the
pianistic feats. So Hatto slightly adjusts
her aim, and here too, she does not
disappoint. There is a certain sense
of irony here which would have been
out of place in the preceding pieces.
My one slight reservation
concerns the opening pages of the "Tarantella".
Brilliant and vivid though they are,
is it not all a shade too hectic actually
to sound like a Tarantella? At this
point I took out a couple of comparisons.
Edith Farnadi (Westminster, long unavailable)
disappointed me in a similar way (and
is cautious in the closing pages, which
Hatto certainly is not) but Jorge Bolet
(Decca) at a fractionally slower tempo
seems closer to the spirit of the dance.
Having begun making
comparisons I noted that Hatto is the
most magical of all in the "Gondoliera"
– Farnadi is a little dry, though the
close recording does not help, while
Bolet is pleasant but seemingly uninvolved.
In the cadenza passages Farnadi and
Bolet make us hear notes while Hatto,
playing them faster, makes us hear magic.
Bolet, on the other hand, finds a tragic
note (at a slower tempo) in the "Canzone"
which I found very impressive; Farnadi
and and Hatto are more overtly passionate.
While I have noted my preference for
Bolet at the start of the "Tarantella",
Hatto yields nothing to him in the "Canzona
Napolitana" and the closing pages.
A textual query. Bolet
alone observes, very effectively, the
"Un poco meno Presto ma sempre
con molto brio" (a little less
fast but still with much brio) marking
that appears at two points in the "Tarantella"
– or at least, it is printed in the
Peters Edition edited by Emile von Sauer
that I have in front of me. Farnadi
and Hatto so deliberately don’t slow
down that I wonder if that marking is
inauthentic and they are aware of the
fact? But, even if this were so, since
the momentary slowing down is so obviously
effective, might not Sauer, a pupil
of Liszt, have added it on the strength
of something he had heard Liszt do,
or which Liszt had told him to do?
I suppose that I must
by now have reviewed more records by
Joyce Hatto than by any other single
pianist. Though in a general sort of
way I suppose I have a picture of her
by now as a musicianly, scrupulous,
technically prepared and above all trustworthy
guide to a wide range of repertoire,
and a fair percentage of new issues
go towards reinforcing this image, I
must say there have also been occasions
when she has quite taken my breath away,
entirely confounding my expectations;
this "Dante Sonata" was one
The anonymous notes
accompanying this issue are extremely
well-written and helpful so here is
obviously a major addition to the Liszt
see also review
by Johnathan Woolf
can offer the complete
Concert Artist catalogue