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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
The Complete Works For Piano, Volume 8

Piano Sonatas: No. 1 in C minor, Op. 4 (1828); No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 (1839); No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 (1844).
Joyce Hatto (piano).
Rec. Concert Artists Studios, July 6th, 1995, June 12th, 1997 and January 4th, 1998. DDD

This is the logical way to present Chopin’s three sonatas, one would have thought. After all, they fit nicely onto one disc, coming in at around an hour and a quarter’s combined playing time. But the problem is No. 1. Always regarded less as the poor cousin to Nos. 2 and 3, more the destitute outcast, it has usually been superseded by, well, anything else when it comes to filling up the remaining playing time. True, Chopin was only 17 years old and still at the Warsaw Conservatory when he wrote it, but surely it deserves a better fate then the oblivion it has been consigned to?

I have only reviewed one performance of the first Sonata before. That was Joanna Trzeciak on Pavane ADW7291 (nicely coupled with the four Rondos, which do not upstage the piece in the manner that Opp. 35 and 58 do). That was an acceptable performance. Unfortunately, Hatto does not quite fill the gap. Her laudatory biography at Concert Artist’s website ( prepares the listener for a treat. Or, seen another way, gives her a lot to live up to.

There is certainly the impression that Op. 4 has been treated with the disdain it is accustomed to and prepared mainly (or, indeed, only) in the interests of a complete edition. There is an uncomfortable literalism in the first movement coupled with a certain over-careful approach. The First Sonata needs, if anything, more, not less, championing than the others. If Hatto’s finale is more exciting than in the hands of Trzeciak, it is too little too late to save this performance.

Of course, the competition opens out for the mighty twosome. Nice of Hatto to include the first movement repeat in No. 2, but she can hardly approach the majesty of, say, Pollini on DG, to name but one example. The first movement is certainly agitato (fast and furious might be more apposite), but things get worse in the Scherzo, where the repeated notes, which should zing with energy, sound like a Polish stutter. If the famous Funeral March is imbued with a slow sense of inevitability, the contrasting theme which should enter like a shaft of light here falls flat on its face. The finale is ultra-fast, with little pedal, but the eerie mystery is missing.

The Third Sonata fares better. The first movement is grand, and Romantically shaded. Right hand legato is well projected. Hatto uses a pearly tone in the second movement Scherzo (here there is really good playing), but things go awry again in the final two movements. Despite a fair smattering of tender moments, the Largo needs more concentration to sustain its length. The finale possesses impressive finger-work which, at times, glistens. But interpretatively misjudged accents can disrupt the flow, a big mistake in a movement where cumulative energy is all

I had hoped for more.

Colin Clarke


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