This is presumably the first of Joyce Hatto’s
Liszt-Bach transcriptions to be issued from her edition of Liszt’s
works for Concert Artist. The programme booklet note covers both
the Fantasia and Fugue and Preludes and Fugues as noted above
and a selection of other Bach transcriptions with great thoroughness.
Things look set fair for this series.
The Fantasia and Fugue was a favourite of Golden
Age pianists but surprisingly few were asked to set down their
thoughts on disc. Interestingly a live recording, in poor shape
however, does exist of Moiseiwitsch playing it during an Australasian
or South African tour in the mid-1950s (on Arbiter). One would
hardly expect that his Leschetizky-trained pianism would necessarily
shed any light on Hatto’s performance but in their dissimilitude
one senses how far things have developed (progressed, changed,
take your pick) in the interpretation of this hyphenated repertoire.
Where Moiseiwitsch uses a lot of pedal and a leonine sense of
big, romanticised gesture, full of massive accelerandi, Hatto
is obviously more metrically aware and balances the dictates and
imperatives of original source material and transcription with
scrupulous clarity. One other recording will do to reinforce the
point – Percy Grainger’s 1931 disc now on Biddulph.
Quixotic and grandiose the bars are rushed like a steed on speed.
Similarly in the Fugue Grainger’s left hand animates with
powerhouse incision and melodrama; but take a listen to Moiseiwitsch,
from the same generation, though recorded much later and listen
to his more elfin discretion though you’ll have to contend
with a degraded tape. Both men though use bigger dynamics more
often than a contemporary such as Hatto and both are faster. Hatto
retains metrical and rhythmic assurance; there’s inner rhythm
here, a balance of hands, measured articulation, and a reserving
of powerful dynamics for the most structurally apposite moment.
The Prelude and Fugue in A minor S462, based
on BWV 543, was once recorded by Mischa Levitzki – in 1927
to be exact and now on Naxos. It’s noticeable that in the
Prelude Hatto is urgent, clear, cumulatively powerful, Levitzki
for all his magnificent ardour rather more stolid with sometimes
rather confused voicings – matters to which Hatto pays the
most scrupulous care. The let’s turn to the C major (No.
ii) where in the Prelude she brings out the chorale-like amplitude
or expresses the most limpid logic in the succeeding Fugue. There
is grandeur here as well, as in the Prelude of the C minor, with
its Hatto admixture of clarity and nobility. This is something
of a locus classicus of her playing – no grandstanding or
immodest flourish or fudging. Then again try to hear the wit and
life spirit embedded in the Prelude of the C major (No. iv) and
the texture and beauty of tone she produces. It sounds to me like
an aria-without-words from one of the Passions so vocalised and
alive is the playing; and what a contrast is the leonine crispness
and power of the succeeding Fugue, without recourse to too much
pedal. Then, for a final test, turn to the biggest of the set,
the E minor. Articulation is crisp and brisk, the tempo is relatively
reserved but the ascent to the climax of the peak of a phrase
or the peak of a movement is unerring and packs quite a punch;
those strong left hand voicings ring out, though never overbalancing
and never drawing attention to forced voicings.
There’s another reason to consider this
disc; I’m not aware of a similar coupling in the catalogue
other than that by Leslie Howard in his huge Liszt undertaking
for Hyperion and to which I’ve not had access. Whatever
the merits of that traversal Hatto’s performances are imbued
with timbral colour and a sure sense of where she’s going;
fine Liszt-Bach playing, playing that always respects the ultimate
Bachian truth of these arrangements.
See the review by Christopher
Artist complete catalogue available
from MusicWeb International