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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15 (1854-58)
Four pieces for piano; No. 4 Rhapsody in E flat Op. 119 No. 4 (1892)
Rhapsody in B minor Op. 79 No. 1 (1879)
Rhapsody in G minor Op. 79 No. 2 (1879)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
National Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/René Köhler
Recorded St Mark’s Church, Croydon, June 1995 (Concerto) and Concert Artist Studios, September 1997 (remainder)

MusicWeb has suspended the sale of Concert Artists discs until it can be resolved which were actually recorded by Joyce Hatto. It is thought to be Vladinmmir Ashkenazy with Bernard Haitink


Joyce Hatto was a piano pupil of Zbigniew Drzewiecki at the Warsaw Conservatoire as was Roger Woodward amongst others. Drzewiecki (1890-1971) was a strong proponent of the contemporary Polish repertoire but equally committed to Chopin, on whom he was an authority. She also studied with Ilona Kabos and Serge Krish, received some guidance from Cortot and took composition lessons from Mátyás Seiber and from Hindemith. Record collectors will remember her remarkable Bax, but there was much else – Mozart, Rachmaninov, Gershwin – and she was a sterling exponent of Liszt as well, having given the complete original piano works in a series of recitals, a remarkable and indefatigable undertaking.

Concert Artist/Fidelio have captured a sizeable chunk of her repertoire in recent recordings of which this Brahms release forms part, recorded in 1995 and 1997. New releases are imminent so I suggest you consult the company’s website (details above) for further details. Hatto has recorded both Concertos – my review of the Second Concerto will appear soon – and she displays considerable Brahmsian qualities; this is a pianist who should be far better known than she is. I don’t know anything about the National Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra (or conductor René Köhler) but the name has a charming Decca resonance familiar from the days of Sidney Beer, Warwick Braithwaite and Anatole Fistoulari. The orchestra, it’s true, is recorded in a rather swimmy acoustic and this saps the lower strings especially with a lack of clarity that can prove burdensome. But Joyce Hatto is on splendid form, strong, resilient; she opens up space, little pockets of weighted time, in the left hand. She never tries to force through the tone or to engage in tonal mock-heroics. In the Maestoso first movement she can retard the rhythm with remarkable effect, vesting her chording with passionate dignity and the verticality of the chords is as noble as their tone is rich. After noting the problem with the acoustic I should add that the basses and cellos come into their own in the slow movement in which at a relatively slow tempo Hatto sustains the questing line with sensitivity and architectural acumen. The balance between piano and orchestra is good in the finale and even if the timpani booms alarmingly it seems to add to the increasingly pawky humour of the reading which reaches its apotheosis in this performance in the fugal episode, very well done. Altogether in fact a convincing performance of a frequently misread work.

The disc ends with three Rhapsodies; the Op. 119 No. 4 is the last of Brahms’ compositions for piano and excellently played by Joyce Hatto. The Op. 79 Rhapsodies are sensitive and characterful. She reminds me a little of Kempff in the B minor with a compelling but deliberately circumscribed tonal palette. In the G minor she begins well, with choppy left hand and stabbing accents though maybe missing some of the mystery in the chordal passages – nevertheless she’s keenly alive and whilst I found a lack of differentiation between piano and forte and lack of dynamic variance, that could be a recording phenomenon. As I said it’s no superficial swagger such as even elite pianists all too often make it (and I recently heard a pianist I much admire, Ivan Moravec, murder it in concert).

A reading of some considerable distinction then from a pianist now making a considerable presence once again in the catalogues, due almost entirely to the dedication and support of a record label that sticks by artists it believes in.

Jonathan Woolf

see also

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

MusicWeb can offer the complete Concert Artist catalogue

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