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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No.1 in C minor Op.4 (1826)
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.35 (1839)
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58 (1844)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded in the Concert Artist Studios in July 1995, June 1997 and January 1998

This is volume eight in Joyce Hatto’s recording of the complete works and it’s been my pleasure to have reviewed a fair few of her discs on this site. She brings together the three sonatas, works long in her repertoire and does so with impressive results. In the early C minor work, a product of Chopin’s youth at the Warsaw Conservatoire, Hatto imbues the Allegro maestoso with some glorious right hand delicacy; she brings colour and freshness to the sometimes undifferentiated material without seeking to elevate the movement into something it plainly is not. The Scherzo submits to her playfulness and wit and her control of bracing rhythm – the charming little waltz emerging elegantly in her hands – and the finale is strong but controlled, nicely cantilevered and aerated. This is a performance that treats the sonata justly – and it should additionally be noted that this is the second time that Hatto has recorded the sonata., the first in 1958.

Her Second Sonata recording makes an interesting contrast with that of, say, Kissin who treats it as a much more febrile instrument for his pianism. But Hatto is a strong player in her own right and she has strong views. If she uses rather more pedal than I would ideally like in the opening of the Grave section of the opening movement, well she has long ago earned the right so to do. It does give weight and verticality of sound and an immediacy of statement. As the movement develops though her playing gets sharper and crisper, rhythms more incisive and imperious. Some may find her too prone to suppress the dynamics of the initial melodic statement but others will admire the effect. In the Scherzo however she is eloquence itself, full of expressive nuance, tonally distinguished with more crisp rhythm and digital control. She brings to the funeral march a particular sensibility; she begins with intense interior concentration building to a powerful externalisation of the theme. The middle section is unusually limpid and lyrical and caressed with rather remarkable delicacy. The finale is fantastically clean and her pianissimi here are wonderful. This is the polar opposite of those finger busting "dead" performances one hears all too often with their almost insolent techniques paraded to the ruinous detriment of all that has gone before.

The B minor sonata unfolds with all the clarity, sensitivity and power one expects from this pianist. Phrasal sagacity is accompanied by tonal eloquence. She is attentive to balance – of melody, of hand weight – in the opening movement, whilst she vests some gorgeous playing on the Scherzo. But she doesn’t exaggerate the sweetness inherent in it; this is natural musicianship, never taking refuge in obviousness or in affectation. This is Chopin playing rooted in an older tradition, one that doesn’t play to the gallery or affect sentiment in a way both sickly and limiting. So yes those lines in the Largo are unfolded beautifully; there is limpidity but a spine of colour and of depth, notably in the left hand. Above all – and this is another thing I detect in all her playing – she takes care to characterise each movement. There’s nothing generic or superficial about this playing. It’s considered, experienced, understanding of the demands – physical, psychological, expressive – that the pianist must meet. And so in the finale she brings huge clarity but also characterises its volatility with assurance. She brings colour and a profile, as well as the prerequisites of drive and drama, and they are all very impressive. Those who have followed Hatto so far in her Chopin series will assuredly want to follow her here. They will be rewarded.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Colin Clarke

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