It’s surprising how much can go wrong in the Rachmaninov
Transcriptions. Listening side by side to recordings of the Suite
from Bach’s E minor Partita it frequently seemed that Joyce Hatto
and Vladimir Ashkenazy were playing a different work entirely. No-one
of course can match Rachmaninov’s own recording, so quick and eventful,
so pointed and vital, so hugely alive but whereas Joyce Hatto is elegant
and full of expression in the Prelude Ashkenazy by comparison
is very fast and brusque with an intemperate indifference to his playing.
Hatto’s Gavotte is full of light and shade, singing a little
like Rachmaninov’s own performance, gently humorous; sadly Ashkenazy,
whose sense of decorum seems to have deserted him here, is without contour
and inflection and crucially lacks vibrant wit. He is inferior to Hatto
in the Gigue as well, failing to delineate the counterpoint with
anything approaching her quicksilver naturalness. There is in fact no
genuine point of comparison, so markedly different are their responses
and the means they deploy to evoke the imitative writing and so superior
is Hatto’s performance that Ashkenazy’s seems futile and morose.
The transcriptions are often of severe technical difficulty
but it takes a musician to infuse them with deft and colouristic life.
Thus Joyce Hatto keeps teasing rubati in her left hand in Wohin?
and doesn’t overplay the minuet from L’Arlésienne. The
miraculous Moiseiwitsch recording of 1939 is probably the greatest ever
made of the high point of the set, the Scherzo from A Midsummer
Night’s Dream. Hatto is full of colour and control and a real degree
of effervescence. She vests Rachmaninov’s own Lilacs with a romantic
halo of sound and the charm of his Daisies with even trills and
tonal bloom. There is some glittering right hand, idiomatic and unstoppable,
in Kreisler’s Liebesfreud – a very tough transcription (though
it lasts only 6.35 not the knuckle breaking 10.50 as advertised).
The Études-Tableaux date from 1911 and
were originally nine, three being subsequently withdrawn. There’s skill
and understanding commensurate to the transcriptions in Joyce Hatto’s
performance of them. The F minor has abundant rhythmic drive and the
C minor an inwardness and expressivity in Hatto’s hands. She is suitably
dramatic in the E flat minor and full of ardour in the E flat. She meets
the fearsome demands of the concluding C sharp minor with triumphant
These recordings were made over three days in a three-year
period from 1996 to 1999. The acoustic offers mellowness but has sufficient
clarity to the sound. Notes are helpful.
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