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MusicWeb has suspended the sale of Concert Artists discs until it can be resolved which were actually recorded by Joyce Hatto


Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto no.1 in B flat minor, op.23*
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Concerto no.3 in C major, op.26*
Toccata, op.11
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)

Islamey – Oriental Fantasy
Joyce Hatto (piano)
National Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/René Köhler
Recorded in the Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge, March 3rd 1997 (Prokofiev), March 5th 1997 (Tchaikovsky, Toccata), March 16th 1999 (Balakirev)


The Tchaikovsky Concerto has previously been available on a Concert Artist disc coupled with Saint-Saëns Fourth Concerto. Interested readers should look at my review of that disc for comments on the former -

Here it’s fashioned in the context of an all-Russian disc and takes as a discmate another bedrock concerto, Prokofiev’s much played Third. Much played, yes, but not so often played as it is here. Superficially this is a relatively slow interpretation – and Hatto is certainly not known as a slowcoach in this area of her repertoire. Take a look at the insert timings and you can see that she is nearly two minutes slower in the Adagio than Kissin and a minute and a half slower than Katchen. She is a minute slower than Argerich (though Argerich has been slowing up in this concerto over the years – 9.01 with Abbado and 9.39 with Dutoit) and roughly the same amount vis-a-vis Demidenko and Katchen. This is not to mention Prokofiev’s own celebrated, blazing sword recording with the LSO (on Naxos).

How best, in spite of crude matters of timings, to characterise Hatto and Köhler’s interpretation? Well in his own recording the composer was nervous, electric, quick, cultivating huge contrasts and laconic profiles, grotesque and urbanely thrown away in equal measure. Hatto and Köhler are very different: slower, yes, but also subtle in their interplay and crafting. This is especially so in the Theme and Variations second movement where we find something remarkably Gallic about the pianism, about the orchestration, about it all. I confess I was taken aback by the Ravelian inheritance that becomes exposed here. I’d never considered the Concerto in that light before, blinded as I generally have been by the infectious virtuosic swagger and unremitting energy of it all. Here, suddenly, I see the it in a different light. Whether others will share this more subdued, multi-hued Gallic vision, an interpretation which is not anti-virtuosic but which promotes tints and colours above mere rhetoric, will remain to be seen. In its determined way however it has subtly shifted my perception of the way the piece can sound.

As a bonus – infelicitous word for these two notoriously devilish pieces – we have Prokofiev’s Toccata, lighter and more full of shade than usual, though not stinting on the leonine drama. And there’s Islamey, a remorseless trial of technique, which sounds evocative and sensitively shaped. It is rather more musically involving than usual in this performance – it seems here co-opted firmly to the more sensitive wing of Lisztian inspiration.

These are perceptive and thought-provoking performances. They avoid all hints of routine and casual run-through parochialism. Instead these readings are welded to recreative imagination and technical surety. I’m sure the Prokofiev Concerto, in particular, will be the cause of some challenging, fruitful debate.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Christopher Howell

The Tchaikovsky is also available coupled to Saint-Saens Piano concerto No 4. See reviews by Jonathan Woolf and William Hedley

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