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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1877-1943)

Works for Piano and Orchestra Volume 3

Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor Op. 1 (1891 rev. 1917)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor Op. 40 (1926 rev. 1927 and 1941)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43 (1934)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
The Philharmonia of Warsaw on all except
National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (Rhapsody)/René Köhler
Recorded Watford Town Hall, October 1996 (First and Fourth Concertos) and St Marks, Croydon March 1994 (Rhapsody)
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACD 9219-2 [78.11]


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We have already seen from her recording of the Rachmaninov Third Concerto (reviewed on this site) that Joyce Hatto possesses in abundance the sweep and the grandeur and also the introspective depth that mark out great romantic playing. In the First Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Op 1, she commands the rhetoric with absolute fluency and the way in which she plays the second theme is a sure indication of her deep sensitivity in this literature. She does so with splendid cantabile phrasing of real beauty. Added to which her first movement cadenza is of leonine persuasiveness and power and one is set up for a performance of intense assurance. Her slow movement is rightly reflective without undue lingering and the finale is relished in authentically victorious style. Technical considerations are swept asunder as Hatto confidently binds together the contrastive rhetoric and drives to the magnificent conclusion. Someone like Earl Wild, who incinerates this movement, taking it in 6.39 is even faster by some distance than the composer himself in his celebrated recording. Hatto maintains a strong directional pull whilst not pulverising the finale.

And it’s a similar story in the Fourth, if slightly less exalted. Again the drive and the sweep are never at the service of external considerations. Moments of reflection are woven into the fabric of the performance and whilst there is bravura in abundance one never feels it paraded for its own sake. In that strange Two Lovely Black Eyes Largo we find Hatto exploring the poetic implications with real understanding. It’s hardly to be wondered by now that she succeeds in fusing the more declamatory outbursts here with such a sense of rightness. In the finale the orchestra is on strongly aggressive form (good first trumpet). Hatto still finds moments of reflection and poetic insight and her filigree treble virtuosity is really not in doubt.

In the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini her touch is of great sensitivity. She occasionally retards the line (track 15) or emphasises the mordant grimness (track 17) but can also be full of filigree grace (track 18). She phrases with almost improvisatory individuality in the following variation and when she plays Variation 18 (track 25) the expressivity is generated by her rolled chords, by the incremental paragraph points, by the sure sense of motion and movement and a tightening of the syntax even at its most pressing and urgently romantic. I like the way the rather swimmy orchestral counter-themes become clear and come into sharp relief in track 29. This is a powerfully individual performance - no carbon paper has ever come within a country mile of her. Confident and expressive she meets this repertoire head on.

Jonathan Woolf

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