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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Twenty-Four Songs Without Words Volume 1

E major Op.19 No.1
A minor Op.19 No.2
A major Op.19 No.3
A major Op.19 No.4
F sharp minor Op.19 No.5
G minor Op.19 No.6
B minor Op.30 No.4
D major Op.30 No.5
F sharp minor Op.30 No.6
C minor Op.38 No.2
A minor Op.38 No.5
A flat Op.38 No.6
A flat Op.53 No.1
E flat Op.53 No.2
G minor Op.53 No.3
A minor Op.53 No.5
A major Op53 No.6
G major Op.62 No.1
E minor Op.62 No.3
A minor Op.62 No.5
C major Op.67 No.4
E major Op.67 No.6
E minor Op.102 No.1
G minor Op.102 No.4
Fantasia in F sharp minor Op.28
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Rec. Concert Artist Studios Cambridge, January 1999, January 2001 and June 2001

Joyce Hatto doesn’t do things by halves – and neither does Concert Artist for whom she records. This is the first volume in her complete recorded edition of the Mendelssohn Songs Without Words and a more natural, unaffected and musical set you’d be hard pushed to find. Time and time again the lyrical line emerges unclouded by a projected self. Time and time again one finds oneself listening to Mendelssohn as if unmediated. This is musicianship that puts itself at the service of the composer – something of a pious critical construct but here apposite indeed.

I listened to Hatto alongside performances by such as Gieseking and Moiseiwitsch. The former’s famous 1956 selections stand at something of a polar opposite to Hatto’s and to compare his slow, brooding, impressionistic and frequently wounded response to hers is to move, frequently, from darkness to the light. In the E major, Op.19/1 the disjunctiveness of approach is at its most acute. It’s not simply a question of tempo, or of tempo relation, but it has more to do with a sense, a feeling, the generation of a sensibility in a few brief intimate minutes. Hatto perfectly judges this serenade over its broken chords; she is romantic, sensitive, flowing, Gieseking a crest fallen depressive by comparison. Which is not to disparage Gieseking, but more to illustrate the difference in response. With Moiseiwitsch in his 1927 HMV recording there are differences of another stamp. He opens the A major Op.19/3 as a real call to arms, military and defiant, leaving the smallest of caesura before driving joyfully on. In comparison Hatto is slower, rather heavier and more considered with a more obvious romantic impress. His bombardier left hand accents and stentorian drama sweeps it all up with gleeful defiance. Hatto sees things more equably and ends with more than a hint of reflective intimacy. Again two different interpretations that bring out various shades of meaning from the text.

When it comes to the barcarolle thirds and sixths of the G minor Op.19/6 Hatto is wonderfully affectionate, her rhythmic sense special; Gieseking is once again – a feature of his set – very slow and drenched in gravitas, rubati impeding the natural rhythm in the interests of colour and feeling. That Hatto responds to the more melancholy aspect of these Songs is not in doubt; she just does it with composer-orientated simplicity. So the F sharp minor rises and crests with a splendid trill and a sense of chaste intensity imparted through the most subtle of means. In the E flat Op.53/2 Gieseking suddenly rouses from his slough of despond and his is a fine reading, as is Hatto’s. And how beautifully she points the gently dropping fourths in the G major Song that Mendelssohn dedicated to Clara Schumann and how memorable her noble, spacious chordal gravity in the E minor Op.62/3. May Song Op.67/4 and the Spinning Song Op.67/6 have been reversed in the running order but both are excellent, Hatto revelling in the flighty conversationality of the writing but savouring, without lingering over, the reflective but forward moving lyrical impress of the E minor Op.102/1. She concludes the disc with the Fantasia in F sharp minor. She brings a clarity shot through with unsettled disturbance to the first of the three movements and voices the second with effortless naturalness, a real "composer first" performance.

Joyce Hatto has performed the set for German radio and it’s a fine thing that her interpretations are enshrined on disc. One can look to her in confidence, knowing the value she places on the text is higher than the need she may feel to project her own personality.

Jonathan Woolf

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