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Frederick CHOPIN (1810-1849)
The Complete Works for Piano Vol. 1 The Études
Douze Études Op 10

No 1 in C [2.04]
No 2 in a [1.26]
No 3 in E [4.28]
No 4 in c sharp [2.01]
No 5 in G flat [1.42]
No 6 in E flat [3.55]
No 7 in C [1.46]
No 8 in F [2.34]
No 9 in f [2.10]
No 10 in A flat [2.17]
No 11 in E flat [2.36]
No 12 in c [2.38]
Douze Études Op 25

No 1 in A flat [2.41]
No 2 in f [1.31]
No 3 in F [1.53]
No 4 in a [1.44]
No 5 in e [3.27]
No 6 in g sharp [2.01]
No 7 in c sharp [5.05]
No 8 in D flat [1.19]
No 9 in G flat [1.01]
No 10 in b [3.53]
No 11 in a [3.40]
No 12 in c [2.44]
Trois Études Nouvelles

No 1 in f [1.50]
No 2 in D flat [1.39]
No 3 in A flat [1.47]
Joyce Hatto, piano
Rec. March 1992, April 1997, Concert Artist Studios, Royston, Hertfordshire, England
CONCERT ARTIST CACD 9035-2 [65.57]

 

The etudes of Chopin are one of the absolute benchmarks of the pianistís repertoire. As a series of miniatures they are almost without parallel for their range of emotional content, breadth of technical coverage and exploration of tonal centres in the 19th century repertoire of keyboard music. While most are really quite short pieces (this recording ranging from the maximum of Op.25 no 19 at just over five minutes down to the brevity of Op.25 no 21 at but a second over one minute) they cover such a gamut of feeling, power and expression that there is endless potential for the imaginative pianist to communicate something new to the listener within the confines of these rigidly fashioned masterpieces. The Op.10 set date from 1831 (published in 1832) and are (apart from nos 7 and 8) arranged in pairs of relative major/minor keys. Yet this structural unification does nothing to hinder the wide range of ideas and textures that Chopin explores. The set published in 1837 as Op.25 had a longer gestation period from 1832 through to 1836 and culminate in the powerfully expressive numbers 7, 11 and 12. In these Chopin brought to bear his most perfected skills of technical writing. Joyce Hatto is in complete control of all aspects of these demanding works. Her technique is impeccable and her range of expression is admirable, although it is arguable whether she could have encompassed a wider dynamic range in these interpretations. This may not necessarily be the fault of the performer however, for the recording has some rather strange qualities. It is noted that the piano is a Steinway, and Steinways are ideal for this repertoire, being neither muddy in the bass nor tinny in the upper registers and capable of producing the most crystalline bell-like sounds under the fingers of a master. This writer has no doubt that Hatto is capable of producing that quality of sound; there are flashes of it throughout Op.10 no.11, and in the powerfully controlled articulation of Op.25 no.10 but too often the recorded sound is too distant, lacking in body and brittle. This latter aspect gives a quality of the extreme brightness of a Yamaha piano to the sound and detracts from the inherent velvety smoothness of the Steinway sound. The opening track, the first of the Op.10 études, gives a major surprise in this brittleness of recorded sound. Given the nature of the constant arpeggio figures in the right hand, set against the mighty octaves of the left hand theme, the necessity of capturing both the clarity and the sonority is paramount and this recording does not really achieve that.

This is a pity for it is unarguable that Joyce Hatto has much to say in these works. The brilliant Presto of Op.25 no.2 is executed with flawless precision and a grace bordering on Schumannís description of Chopinís own performance as "soft as the song of a sleeping child" for, although that image is hard to imagine in relation to the incredible speed, Hatto here keeps the dynamic under strict control so that the rapid passagework seems more to flutter than anything else. However, once again the microphone placing gives a sound that seems distant and curiously removed. This works better in a jerky work such as Op.25 no.4, but generally it is not comfortable as a listening experience.

This is a brilliant performance with many aspects of sheer technical magic displayed in elegant virtuosity and characterful interpretations, but the disc is sadly let down by the hard and colourless and strangely disengaged recording quality. On that basis it is regrettably not easy to recommend.

Peter Wells

See also review by Jonathan Woolf

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