Michel Dalberto was
born in 1955. A pupil of Vlado Perlemuter
and a protégé of Nikita
Magaloff, he won the Clara Haskil Competition
in 1975 and the Leeds in 1978. He was
particularly active in the recording
studios in the early 1990s for Denon,
when he set down a complete Schubert
cycle on 14 CDs, now reissued by Brilliant,
and a fair amount of Liszt. These were
mostly well received at the time. The
lily-fingered Hatto couple were already
helping themselves to his work by 1994,
when his Schubert Hüttenbrenner
Variations appeared on a "Hatto"
cassette. His career still continues,
though possibly these early premises
held out hope of higher things. However,
he is still relatively young so the
last chapter has yet to be written.
Certainly, this pair
of Liszt discs is a very fine achievement.
Ranging as it does from the very well-known
– the "Liebestraum"
– to a rare late work – "La notte"
– with substantial fare along the way,
it would make a good starting point
for anyone setting out to investigate
I compared the Bach
Variations with the version by Karl-Andreas
Kolly which was chosen by the Hattos
for "their" recording – see
Dalberto is a little more peremptory,
ready to go to extremes, to charge off
with the virtuoso bit between his teeth,
or to dream poetically. But he never
does this to the point of losing his
grip on the structure. Kolly is a very
musical pianist and I like the way he
lets the piece build up gradually and
inexorably. Both have the technique
to bring off their chosen interpretation.
Dalberto uses a wider tonal range and
this creates some problems for the engineers.
As recorded, his tone sounds forced
at the upper end of the dynamic range.
This is my one problem with the first
disc. By the time he set down the second,
the engineers – or Dalberto himself
– had got the big fortissimos under
control and this CD sounds fine.
Dalberto is poetic
without maundering in the Liebesträume
and takes an elegant, unhurried view
of the Valse Oubliée.
Recently I heard Funérailles
played by a pianist – Daniel Pollack
– who evidently believes it should be
played loudly from beginning to end.
Dalberto’s adherence to the written
dynamics both here and in Bénédiction
is scrupulous. There is a lot of
fine musicianship on display.
In the last resort,
I suppose this is excellent rather than
actually great. Comparing Dalberto’s
Funérailles with Pollack’s is
one thing. Comparing it with Richter’s
is another. If Dalberto’s career has
levelled off somewhat, then I suppose
excellence is not a unique quality.
There has only been one Horowitz, one
Rubinstein, but each generation has
its Dalberto, or even several of them.
All the same, one must
be grateful to hear Liszt played so
musically, beautifully and lovingly.
Two years can be a long time in a young
musician’s development and by the time
he set down the first Italian book of
the Années de pèlerinage
Dalberto was perhaps ready
to investigate the music more deeply.
The three Petrarch Sonnets are
very measured and meditative. Not excessively
so to my ears, though if you have Horowitz’s
swashbuckling performance of Sonnet
104 firmly lodged in your head you may
not agree. They were evidently too slow
for the Hatto couple, who replaced them
with far more passionate, even brusque,
performances, still unidentified. The
timings there are 05:04, 05:57 and 06:29.
Dalberto’s are 07:56, 06:54 and 07:57.
Those are big differences.
My one reservation
concerns the Canzonetta del Salvator
Rosa, where I found his treatment
a little flippant. It’s hardly the best
Liszt but the substitution of some staccatos
when legato is written – an unusual
act of infidelity for Dalberto – does
not help. On the other hand, the Dante
Sonata is magnificent. Dalberto
knows how to unleash torrents of sound,
but does not neglect the more poetic,
lyrical side of the piece, while keeping
a firm grip on the structure. I thoroughly
enjoyed hearing it again. If I was not
quite so bowled over as when
I thought it was Hatto playing – see
below – this is because I no longer
believed I was listening to a sick old
lady displaying incredible reserves
of energy. I was listening to a healthy
young man making the most of his fine
technique. There’s no denying it makes
The concluding item
is extremely interesting. La notte
was a late orchestral work – transcribed
by Liszt for piano – based on the second
piece from the Italian Années,
Il penseroso. Not having a score,
I found it fascinating to hear it with
the score of Il penseroso open.
The first part is much as before, slightly
expanded or varied here and there. Then
follows a wholly new middle section.
When the "Penseroso" section
returns, it is totally reworked, only
a very few bars actually remaining unchanged.
Dalberto plays it with power and dedication.
This performance was also stolen by
the Hattos, but I didn’t hear that disc.
fairly straightforward. Time-stretching
had not been discovered by the couple
in 2002 so the only disguise is a softening
of the sound picture. For some reason
this was done pretty considerably in
Il penseroso and the Canzonetta,
hardly at all in the Dante Sonata.
The pianist in Sposalizio, by
the way, gives a very mellow, gentle
performance in a reverberant acoustic
– about a quarter of a minute longer
than Dalberto. When the identifications
have been made, I shall be very surprised
if this is the same pianist as in the
Petrarch Sonnets. Since the "Hatto"
disc concludes with a performance of
"Venezia e Napoli" identified
as by Janina Fialkowska – see review
– this means the entire CD was a composite
job by four pianists.
Here is my original
review. I award myself a Brownie point
for noting that something was different
in the Dante Sonata, though I attributed
this to a different mood, or a different
acoustic, rather than to a different
pianist. I can allow myself another
Brownie point for noting that there
was something different about "Venezia
e Napoli", too. But I’ll have to
take them off again for not noticing
the differences that should already
have been apparent during the first
six pieces. I have omitted some of my
comments on "Venezia e Napoli"
– I will quote these when I review the
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",
"personality", "interpretation" 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.
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 of them.
The anonymous notes
accompanying this issue are extremely
well-written and helpful so here is
obviously a major addition to the Liszt