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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
The Complete Works for Piano Volume 5

Fantasien Op.116
Three Intermezzi Op.117
Six Klavierstücke Op.118
Four Klavierstücke Op.119
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded at the Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge, 1997, 1998 and 2004

Concert Artist’s sleevenote writer William Hedley notes that many of these piano pieces resemble poems. It was actually Hanslick who suggested that they were monologues – and the complex intimacies the word evokes is certainly apt in this set, the fifth volume in Joyce Hatto’s traversal of Brahms’ piano music.

These are late works and Hatto is at one with them. The first of the Op.116 Fantasien is a Capriccio marked Presto energico and that’s how we get it, an intensely driving opening to the set of seven, originally published in two books. The Intermezzo that follows has a veiled melancholy and the G minor Capriccio (Allegro Passionata) receives a bold, forthright reading here, with fine leonine phrasing in the central section. She is poetic without losing the spine of the argument in the E major intermezzo and characterises with authority and individuality. Her E minor Intermezzo couldn’t be more removed from, say, Kempff’s in implication. It’s marked Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentimento and Hatto gets an array of tone colours at a reasonable clip, whereas Kempff habitually took it at a far more leisurely tempo. Where I find someone like Kempff so impressive is in the songfulness and explicit lyricism in these pieces – and Joyce Hatto only elides these aspects in the E major Intermezzo, even though her concluding Capriccio is once again splendidly bold.

Her Op.117 Intermezzi are nobly conceived and full once more of the subtlest range of colour, not least the E flat. She finds bleak nobility in the B flat minor at a more sedate tempo, where Kempff is more mobile and quicker but these are powerful readings. The Klavierstücke Op.118 throws up equally probing musicianship. Kempff may be more urgent than Hatto in the A major Intermezzo – it’s not often that Joyce Hatto is bested in this way – but he is less romantic. She tends to drive through contrastive material – take the Ballade in G minor for instance where Kempff’s big contrasts fuse with playful hauteur. Hatto has none of this, and takes the Allegro energico marking at face value – and gives it to us, not without expression either, always a feat at speed. I particularly liked her walnut tone in the Romanze in F major and those fast moving trills in the central section. Her technical prowess is remarkably consistent throughout the disc. We end with the four pieces that make up Op.119. She catches the hesitancies of the Intermezzo in B minor and the waltz theme embedded in the E minor emerges with great acumen.

There are moments when I felt that the acoustic was just a touch echo-y – try the Rhapsodie in E flat major from the Op.119 set which doesn’t register with quite the vigour that I think it would have otherwise. Nevertheless this is an impressively argued set of an exceptionally taxing repertoire – taxing both technically and emotively and Hatto meets these demands without either digital limitation or expressive abstemiousness.

Jonathan Woolf

The Concert Artist Catalogue is available from MusicWeb

JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise - Comment and Interview by Burnett James

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