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Mephisto Waltz no. 1 was issued as the work of Joyce Hatto on Concert Artist/Fidelio CACD 9067-2. Venezia e Napoli was issued as the work of Hatto in 2002 on CACD 9150-2.
This disc may not be currently available.

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Mephisto Waltz no. 1 [11:22]
Années de pèlerinage: 2e Année – Italie: Supplément - Venezia e Napoli [17:31]
LISZT/CHOPIN

The Maiden’s Wish [03:14]
LISZT/SCHUBERT

Hark, Hark, the Lark [02:51]
LISZT

Transcendental Studies: 5. Feux Follets [03:41], 12. Chasse-neige [04:37], 9. Ricordanza [10:21]
Années de pèlerinage: 2e Année – Italie: 6. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca [06 :45]
LISZT/SCHUMANN

Widmung [03 :38]
Janina Fialkowska (piano)
rec. Canada, pub. 1990
CBC RECORDS MVCD 2-1035 [65:25]



Of Canadian Polish descent, Janina Fialkowska was born in Montréal in 1951. Her teachers included Yvonne Lefébure and she became a protégé of Artur Rubinstein in 1974. In 2002 her considerable international career looked in doubt, as cancer was diagnosed in her left arm. This was successfully removed and a muscle-transfer followed in 2003. She spent the next year playing the Ravel and Prokofief left-hand concertos with her right hand – readers who are not pianists cannot even imagine what a daunting task this is, since the whole technical concept of the music has to be approached upside-down, so to speak. By 2004 she was ready to resume her two-handed career. Quite a story.

A story, too, which may not have been lost on the Royston fraudsters. The "Mephisto Waltz no. 1" was one of the first "Hatto" recordings to attract attention, after its posting by Fiorentino expert Ernst Lumpe on a piano forum as evidence of the extraordinary recordings this "neglected" pianist had been quietly setting down over the previous decade and which were only now being issued. Lumpe’s innocence over the matter is not in doubt. His interest in Barrington-Coupe’s Fiorentino recordings had led him to visit the Royston couple and to find, as he believed, friends with kindred musical interests. As we now know, they rewarded him with a bundle of false Fiorentinos, but that’s another story.

Another piano fancier, Andrys Basten, thought the "Mephisto" extract sufficiently interesting to post it on her own site. The rest is history, but the timing is interesting. This was between late 2001 and early 2002. Fialkowska’s cancer was diagnosed later that year. Her heroic comeback was complete by 2004. In those early stages of the Hatto bubble the Hatto curriculum on the CA site suggested, if anything, that her career was still continuing, though it was a bit vague as to where. In 2005 it was "revealed", through the interview with Richard Dyer, that she had been compelled to retire from the public stage in 1976 as a result of ovarian cancer and had been fighting it ever since – with the triumphant results that could be "heard" on her records.

The Hatto "story" was actually pieced together from bits of other people’s stories in much the same way as was her "discography". It was early on suggested that Fiorentino’s remarkable Indian summer after his virtual disappearance from the scene had been part of her inspiration. The Fialkowska story looks like being another, a suggestion as to how Hatto might make creative use of the cancer from which she certainly suffered, if not for as long as she claimed. Immersed as they were in their own misfortunes, the fraudster couple had no scruples about profiteering from those of others. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the sad postscript to Izumi Tateno’s career appears to have drawn them towards his Debussy.

My primary concern in requesting this disc was "Venezia e Napoli", which I reviewed in the "Hatto" version. Though I did not hear the Mephisto Waltz no. 1, I should say this is the most interesting performance of the programme. Fialkowska has a quality which she may have picked up from Rubinstein, or more likely he recognized in her something of a kindred spirit. She seems to be playing, not to impress or to astonish her audience, but to delight them. We can sense, also, her own pleasure in their delight. Go to Nojima for a more demonic performance, while others again have been more elemental. Somehow Fialkowska makes this seem a twisted cousin of a Mendelssohnian scherzo. There’s a rare twinkle in the eye. Whether this is quite what Liszt wanted I don’t know, but the performance has a personality of its own. It’s very special.

This quality is maintained in the three transcriptions. The Maiden’s Wish is deliciously turned. There is no attempt to make Hark, Hark, the Lark sound like Schubert but one can imagine Liszt delighting the ladies with this outrageous send-up. Schubert can just about take this. Widmung is really an appalling piece of bad taste, but Fialkowska’s sleight of hand makes it worth an occasional hearing.

Elsewhere I had some doubts. In Venezia e Napoli the Gondoliera is elegant but a bit drawing-roomy; the end is beautifully achieved. The Canzone deals a little politely with Liszt’s yards of gloom and, whatever I thought before, this time I thought the Tarantella too snatched in phrasing, too far from the spirit of the dance.

Of the three Transcendental Studies, though, Feux Follets has much of the poise I missed in the Tarantella. The pianism isn’t quite as mind-boggling as Nojima’s, and again she tends to snatch at phrases in sudden forte outbursts, but it’s still a pretty fine display.

Chasse-neige makes a quite extraordinary contrast with Lászlo Simon’s much-admired performance. In Fialkowska’s hands the piece seems like an inflated Mendelssohn Song Without Words – a bombastic drawing-room piece. Simon is slower, but surely out of conviction, not caution. He draws massive, elemental forces from the piece, revealing it to be great music, looking ahead to Sibelius. Similarly, in Ricordanza Fialkowska is often poetic in detail but loses sight of the whole. Simon’s structural command ensures that the piece does not sound any longer than it need do.

On the other hand, I almost wholly enjoyed Fialkowska’s Petrarch Sonnet no. 123. The ending is particularly ravishing. I only query Fialkowska’s tendency to tear away the moment an accelerando heaves into view. But I would add this to the list of Fialkowska performances I am glad to have and will wish to hear again.

On this evidence Fialkowska is, or was in 1990, an engaging player with slightly shallow manners suited more to the salon than to the concert hall. She would probably have been an ideal interpreter of Sydney Smith, Joseph Ascher and the like. However, it would be unfair to make this judgement without hearing her in sonatas and concertos and a range of other composers. Even if it were confirmed, she is a pianist with a real personality and as such, a slightly anomalous choice for the Hatto couple. Reservations apart, I have become Fialkowska-conscious and would like to hear some of her more recent work.

Hattification produced no great changes. There is no time-stretching. The original delicate sound picture is made to sound bigger and boomier, to the detriment of the Gondoliera but to the possible advantage of the Canzone. Differences in the Tarantella were less marked.

Those following up the Hatto aspect should read this review in tandem with that of the Dalberto disc which provided the bulk of the second Diary of a Pilgrimage cycle. At least one pianist, I believe two, still has to be identified on this particular CD. Below are my comments concerning Venezia e Napoli. As I pointed out in the Dalberto review, I can claim some credit for noticing a different style of playing, even if I attributed it to the great Hatto’s chameleon-like range rather than the simple solution. While reciting the odd mea culpa, I must say that critics who, such as myself, are pianists with hands-on experience of at least some of the repertoire set down might have been more suspicious about two things:

1) A variable attitude to playing with hands exactly together (Fialkowska usually does), slightly split (Dalberto does this quite a lot) and real left-before-right playing, in the same composer and even – ostensibly – at the same sessions;

2) A hand-span that embraces major tenths one day (Dalberto must have a pretty big hand) and splits them the next.

 

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?

Christopher Howell




 


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