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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Etudes (1915) [47:24]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Etude "Les cloches de Las Palmas" op.111/4 [04:21]
Etude "En forme de valse" op.52/6 [07:11]
Margit Rahkonen (piano)
rec. 1993, Järvenpää Hall, Finland
FINLANDIA 4509-95581-1 [59:14]



The Debussy Etudes were issued in 2005 as the work of Joyce Hatto on Concert Artist/Fidelio CACD 9131-2.
This CD is reviewed as documentation of the Hatto scandal and is not currently available.

To judge from the number of Google hits in Finnish or other Scandinavian languages, Margit Rahkonen is a well-established figure in her native land. Hoping I’ve understood it correctly, her Finnish-only Wikipedia entry tells us she was born in 1949, studied at the Sibelius Academy (1969) then spent a few years in the United States, first at the New England Conservatory where she took a B.Mus (1973) and an M.Mus (1975), followed by the Juilliard School (1976). She has been teaching at the Sibelius Academy since 1994 and as a teacher her name appears in the CVs of a number of pianists pursuing active careers. She has made several records, mostly as an ensemble partner. "The French Saxophone", in which she accompanies Pekka Sarijoki in music by Milhaud, Boutry, Françaix, Ibert, Jolivet and Maurice (BIS CD 209), has been particularly appreciated.

Since I chose the "Hatto" Debussy Etudes as one of my "Records of the Year" I’d hardly be so daft as to claim the performances seem awful now I know who really played them. My original review may be read here. What I did this time round was to compare each piece to Mitsuko Uchida, since this is a celebrated, award-winning version (Philips 475 7559). Was there any reason, I asked myself, why Uchida should have got an award rather than Rahkonen?

None that I can see, and in some respects they are similar. Neither take the purely abstract approach of Fou Ts’ong (see review), but neither do they take the traditionally impressionist, richly pedalled view of Thiollier (see review). Uchida, however, courts extremes rather more. A small crescendo may provoke her to an explosion. Though this can superficially seem more engaging I think I would ultimately prefer the more sympathetic musicianship of Rahkonen. Just occasionally I found her playing louder than Debussy’s dynamics would warrant, but comparison with Uchida at these points usually found her playing louder still. Since Rahkonen is presently unavailable I repeat my recent suggestion to get both Uchida and Thiollier for a rounded view. Fou Ts’ong would provide another dimension – this music is nothing if not enigmatic. If Rahkonen were to be reissued I would stick to the threesome idea, but with Rahkonen in place of Uchida.

The Saint-Saëns Etudes are neatly and elegantly turned. This is pallid music compared with Debussy and perhaps it needs a nod and wink from the likes of a Rubinstein to make it seem better than it is.

The Hattification

This particular identification had a complicated history, due to early claims that it was heavily doctored Thiollier. My refutation of this appears as an appendix to my review of Thiollier. Various correspondence with the rmcr group followed, leading to a private communication from Henk von Tuijl in which he agreed that the source was not Thiollier and felt it may be Rahkonen. I immediately started to try to find this out-of-print CD but before I had done so another communication from Henk van Tuijl arrived. He appended some notes from Steve Emerson which listed various points of correspondence between "Hatto" and Rahkonen in each Etude. Shortly after this the identification was announced on Pianophiles and rmcr by MrT. When the disc arrived at last I had no difficulty in agreeing with the identification.

Unlike the Tateno Préludes, this time little has been done to change the sound picture. This means that "Hatto" appears in considerably more upfront form here. I remember noting this at the time but I don’t actually seem to have written it in my review.

On the other hand, while the Tateno performances had their tempi unchanged, there’s been considerable manipulation here, in two studies in particular. The timings refer to the actual music, as it appears on my CD counter, and do not take into consideration silence at the beginning or end of the track.

 

Rahkonen

Hatto

1.

03:01

03:01

2.

03:54

03:34

3.

04:48

05:09

4.

04:39

04:29

5.

02:46

02:44

6.

01:39

01:42

7.

02:10

02:15

8.

05:28

05:23

9.

03:21

03:25

10.

05:07

05:09

11.

04:35

04:35

12.

04:50

04:50

When the disc arrived I first checked the opening minute or so of each piece to confirm the identifications. I noticed with my naked ear that no. 2 was speeded up, no. 3 slowed down. The other alterations were not apparent to me. If I’ve got my sums right, no. 2 has been speeded up by 8.5%, no.3 slowed down by 7.2%. The others, discounting those where the difference is of a couple of seconds, range between 1.5% and 3.9%. This suggests that a change has to be somewhere between 4% and 7% before the ear registers it, but this could be different from person to person.

It could also depend on the final result of the change. In spite of the Hattifiers efforts, no. 2 is still slightly longer than Uchida. Whereas Uchida’s no. 3 is slower still than the Hattified Rahkonen. In other words, the tempi have not been cranked up beyond what is humanly possible – faster tempi can be heard elsewhere – or slowed down beyond anything that a reputable artist might consider feasible. I can’t help feeling that if anyone were to crank up Uchida’s tempi for the last Etude – already manically fast to my ears – by even a small percentage, it would have one’s stomach churning.

In view of the speed changes those with "Hatto" cannot simply re-label it "Rahkonen", as they could with the Tateno Préludes. All the same, I don’t think the differences are such as to affect my original opinion of the performances.

The Saint-Saëns "Etude en forme de valse" was included in a mixed "Hatto" recital of French music, featuring principally the two major Franck works. I didn’t review this, but given the likelihood that the Hattifiers would have used Rahkonen also for this, Farhan Malik has kindly compared the two. In the event it was not a match.

Debussy seems to create problems for Hatto-hunters. Still unidentified on Debussy Vol. 2 are "Arabesque no.2" and "La plus que lente", while the Pascal Rogé identification of "Arabesque 1" needs confirmation. "La plus que lente" was long claimed as the work of Klara Kormendi on Naxos. Another out-of-print disc which I eventually managed to hear. As I have already announced elsewhere, it’s not a match. In view of my high opinion of the performance, which I see no reason to revise, I hope this will be sorted out in due course.

Christopher Howell

 

 


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