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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


Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

The Complete Works Inspired by J.S. Bach – The Transcriptions
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor S463 (1863) [11.06]
Prelude and Fugue in A minor S462 – BWV 543 (i) (1842-50) [8.15]
Prelude and Fugue in C major S462 – BWV 545 (ii) (1842-50) [5.24]
Prelude and Fugue in C minor S462 – BWV 546 (iii) (1842-50) [10.17]
Prelude and Fugue in C major S462 – BWV 547 (iv) (1842-50) [7.50]
Prelude and Fugue in E minor S462 (v) – BWV 548 (1842-50) [12.21]
Prelude and Fugue in B minor S462 (vi) – BWV544 (1842-50) [10.09]
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge, November 2004 and January 2005

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.

Jonathan Woolf

See the review by Christopher Howell

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