is an ambitious undertaking by an ambitious, questing musician.
Joyce Hatto has already shown some forthright credentials in this
repertoire. She has also shown independence and imagination in,
say, her reading of the Third Concerto – very different
to most others and a genuinely thought-provoking exercise in which
Gallic influence and sensibility came very much to the fore. Here’s
a pianist who takes nothing for granted, gets down to the practice
studio and puts in unremitting hours.
The complete sonatas augmented by the Sonatinas
and the Ten Pieces Op.12 represent a significant body of work.
Time for an overview of Hatto’s approach and priorities.
There’s nothing especially cushioning about the recorded
sound; it lends an appropriate degree of astringency to this most
astringent repertoire in a way that is (unwittingly or not) creatively
apposite. Take the compact single-movement Third Sonata. Hatto
opens relatively briskly and brightly but listen to the barbaric
sections in which she preserves utter clarity and fearsome control,
relaxing at 3.50 into lyric delineation and delicacy. I dug out
Grigory Ginzburg’s live 1957 performance and have to say
that I rather preferred Hatto’s greater sense of cumulative
tension; she’s wittier, he’s more wilful and galvanic.
Or, to take another example from the first of the three volumes
from Concert Artist. Comparison is always elucidatory so look
at the Fifth, Op.38 in a performance from that superb character
Arthur Loesser. Loesser had a strong Gallic sensibility and he
stresses the more genial aspects of the first movement; he’s
warmer, more overtly expressive, keen to stress its classicism.
Hatto meanwhile responds rather more to the demands of its implacable
aloofness. Such distinctions are even more pronounced in the dissonance-fuelled
second movement. Loesser, live, is much quicker, sounds a lot
more abrasively ironic than does Hatto; she, however, brings out
the voicings better whilst he tends to a certain confusion in
lines. It’s Hatto who takes a cool, hard look at the measure
of the sonata to gauge its emotional temperature and in the finale
maintains rock security in terms of rhythm and tempo. She gathers
in cumulative strength and it’s clear that the architecture
of this troubling, perplexing work has been revealed with sovereign
intelligence and understanding. Loesser is more quixotic and he
brings out humour more explicitly (he was a famous wit) but I
think the truer measure is probably Hatto’s.
In the Sixth one can do no better than compare
Hatto with Richter, 1956, live. He plays the opening statements
with brash, brusque mechanistic implacability. Hatto meanwhile
brings out the march motif, is less remorseless, attending to
the ascending and descending lines with typical acumen. But make
no mistake; this lady has claws. There’s some fearsome playing
here, frighteningly accurate, strongly accented and not going
so far as to embrace all Richter’s sardonic majesty. For
all that, she gets all the peremptory drama of this movement;
no chance of being shortchanged. Listen for instance to the careful
projection of both left and right hand melody lines in the Allegretto.
She has a graceful and rather galant air with those little
stabbing bass notes whereas Richter sees things differently, cultivating
a somewhat cartoonish vision at a much quicker tempo. It’s
certainly a distinction that extends to the slow waltz third movement
which Richter takes briskly and sculpts, highlighting more, maybe
to give it a more actively romantic feel. Whereas Hatto stays
true to her concept of the work as a whole – slower, less
obviously incursive. Hatto and Richter take pretty much the same
approach to the finale – and she sounds perfectly aerated
textually. Things are clear, decisive, and confident.
The Ninth Sonata was another work central to
Richter’s Prokofiev repertoire. He gave the premiere in
1951 and we’re fortunate that recordings have survived.
I’d cite a Moscow 1956 recital. He takes a direct view and
unlike Hatto employs few rubati, tending to stress the urgent
side of the Allegretto tempo marking. But Hatto’s cultivation
of colour and clarity pays dividends and her more measured grandeur
is an equally plausible solution to the problems posed by this
sonata, not least its moments of almost expressionist complexity.
She is again relatively measured in the second movement bringing
out some melancholia at its heart whilst Richter emphasises the
strepitoso indication and is more eruptive and explicit.
At the same tempo as Richter, one feels that Hatto sees shadows
in the slow movement; their direction is actually similar but
there are local differences in depth of chording and tone colour,
timbre – I also think Richter penetrates rather more fully
to its mysterious heart but it’s a close run thing. Virtues
persist in the finale – this is fine, direct playing from
Hatto, shorn of artifice. She catches the quixotic pertness here
through articulation and control – no gimmicks, just music
All of which leaves me little time to note the
following; how measured and successful is the difficult opening
movement of the Eighth and how well she imbues its big span, here
sixteen and a half minutes, with affectionate complexity. Then
there’s the assured flitting between elusive flirtatiousness
and peremptory outbursts in the Allegro moderato of the Op.54
No.1 Sonatina and the painterly textures evoked in the Adagietto
of the second Sonatina, full of couched feelings. The early Ten
Pieces are characterised with élan and mordant humour.
You’ll hear the recording depth changes somewhat between
the earlier sessions of 1998 and these pieces, which were taped
This is a comprehensively successful and accomplished
set. It eschews false heroics and glamour to get nearer to the
heart of these sinewy and difficult sonatas. Readers attuned to
Hatto’s sensibility in the Russian repertoire will find
these three discs rewarding listening. Fine, comprehensive notes
as well from William Hedley.
Artist complete catalogue available
from MusicWeb International