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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Four Rondos
Rondo in C minor Op. 1 (1825)
Rondo à la Mazur in F minor Op. 5 (1827)
Rondo in E flat Op. 16 (1834)
Rondo in C major Op. 73 (1828)
Four Ballades
Ballade in G minor Op. 23 (1836)
Ballade in F minor Op. 38 (1840)
Ballade in A flat Op. 47 (1842)
Ballade in F minor Op. 52 (1843)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded Concert Artist Studios, June 1992 and January 1998
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACD 9038-2 [71.10]


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It was wise to couple the curiously under-appreciated Rondos with the canonical Ballades. Not the least of the advantages for the listener is to experience Joyce Hatto’s acutely sensitive playing in works often dismissed, the earlier at least, as juvenilia. And in the case of the Ballades she shows how much poetry and feeling can be generated by an artist stripped bare of the kind of egotistical self-absorption that can reduce these works to splintered refractions of outsize personality. At no time listening to her playing of the Ballades was I conscious of a single false or imposed moment, no pedal dampening or, conversely, romantic wash of sound. Her rubati are natural but almost imperceptible, the digital clarity of her playing never cold but always firmly concentrated on releasing the essence of the musical argument. It’s playing both honest and memorable.

Each note tells in the G minor Ballade, a work taken by Hatto as an arch, the mechanics of which are never paraded. There are no exaggerations, no fancy Romanticism imposed from without but equally no little eloquence and emotion. This is playing of sagacity and command, playing that is both articulate and understanding of the myriad technical and expressive complexities that lie embedded in the music. In the F major she coalesces the moods and dramatic reflections through a clear-eyed conception of the work’s structure. There is a straight forwardness to her playing that, in the very best sense, allows the piece more fully and truly to speak directly to the listener. Her tone though remains warm and what remains compelling is not just the seeming ease with which she unfolds the discourse but the exceptional clarity of her passagework (you really can hear everything in her right hand, even when she’s playing quietly).

The A flat Ballade is suffused with an affectionate simplicity; the climaxes are excellently controlled, the tone never forced. In the F minor we experience once more her perception and truthfulness. She abjures obviously nudging rubati but knows precisely when to reach the apex of a phrase with exquisite timing. As with all the ballades her instincts are set toward a delineation of the musical line unencumbered by the extraneous, by the superficial, by the inessential.

Those Rondos respond equally well to her rhythmic brio. She doesn’t subject them to a greater weight of consequence than they can withstand – especially the early C minor and the Rondo à la Mazur from 1827. In the later two bigger works her virtuosity and leonine power are never in doubt – and neither is the essential truth of her playing.

These two sets were recorded six years apart. The Rondos have a bigger and more resonant studio acoustic than the Ballades, but whilst not the most glamorous sound it accords well with Hatto’s own musical precepts – directness, straightforwardness, a distillation of experience entirely at the service of the music. A real achievement.

Jonathan Woolf

see also JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise: Comment
and Interview by Burnett James

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Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


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