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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition [34:41]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Sonata no.1 in D minor [36:56]
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded January 8th 1996 and March 16th 1999 in the Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge, UK
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACD 9129-2 [72:17]


Almost since the first appearance of Mussorgsky’s "Pictures" its apparent demand for colour tempted musicians into making orchestral versions – Ravel’s is only the most famous of a long line. Conventional wisdom has it that Richter’s notable recording from the late fifties "vindicated" the original piano version, proving that it worked after all, though why Moiseiwitsch’s 1946 reading (available on Naxos) should have left anyone in doubt I fail to understand. Horowitz had meantime been giving celebrated performances, but in an arrangement of his own.

And yet there is a subtle difference between Moiseiwitsch’s approach and that of Richter. Moiseiwitsch seems concerned to find a pianistic solution to each picture, resolving them with sonorities that sometimes suggest Schumann (a much-loved composer in 19th century Russia) while at others he finds that Mussorgsky was looking forward to Debussy and Ravel (who greatly admired Mussorgsky). To this end, while he does not re-arrange the music Horowitz-style as far as the notes are concerned, he either plays free with the dynamics or did not have access to a reliable edition. Most notably, he starts "Bydlo" softly, as in the Ravel orchestration, rather than crashing in as written, but there are many other smaller adjustments.

Richter, on the other hand, made no attempt to pretend that this music is pianistic in any traditional sense of the word, but rather sought to demonstrate that it is so brilliantly imaginative that it succeeded in spite of itself. A triumphant demonstration of Richter’s "telling it like it is" style of interpretation.

The notes to the present issue tell us that Joyce Hatto had the opportunity to play this work to Moiseiwitsch and I would say her interpretation is essentially pianistic though it is actually very different from his. A few timings may be in order. I should point out that the Richter version I am using is not the famous one but a later version which has not circulated widely on CD. I am also giving the timings of a version by Eduardo Del Pueyo, a rather forgotten figure whose broad overall timing is similar to that of Joyce Hatto. This recording, from the RAI archives, was once available, I don’t know how officially, coupled with a performance of the Ravel orchestration with one of the RAI orchestras under Cluytens.

 
  Moiseiwitch Richter
(Naples 1969)
Del Pueyo
(Milan 1960)
Hatto
         
Promenade 1:35 1:11 1:35 1:40
Gnomus 2:16 2:30 3:24 2:32
Promenade 0:54 0:49 1:05 0:57
Vecchio castello 3:05* 4:28 4:49 4:51
Promenade 0:34 0:23 0:31 0:30
Tuileries 0:50 0:57 1:06 1:06

Bydlo

3:05 2:20 2:38 3:25
Promenade 0:46 0:36 0:45 0:36
Unhatched chicks 1:10 1:12 1:23 1:19
Goldenberg & S 2:19 1:42 2:00 2:17
Promenade 1:30 1:00 1:34 1:24
Limoges 1:26 1:22 1:23 1:22
Catacombae 3:48 3:38 4:09 4:26
Hut 3:28 3:01 3:38 3:19
Great gate 4:08* 4:28 5:12 4:57

TT 30:55 29:43 35:18 34:41

 

In the two pictures marked with an asterisk, Moiseiwitsch was obliged to make small cuts to squeeze the music onto a 78 side; there are other moments where it is possible to wonder if some of his fast tempi were forced on him for the same reason though he invariably makes them sound convincing – it’s an enthralling performance.

While Joyce Hatto’s more expansive approach results in timings similar to those of Del Pueyo, her interpretative concerns are quite different. Del Pueyo’s is essentially a colouristic performance and he uses the extra time to create some fascinating effects – a malevolently drawn-out Gnomus for example. His unhatched chicks are adorable and, whatever his authority for bringing out the middle voice in the trio, with the other voice trilling gently above it, the result is that we really do seem to hear two separate chicks singing from their different shells. Like Moiseiwitsch, he is fairly free in adjusting the dynamics and starts "Bydlo" piano.

Joyce Hatto shares Moiseiwitsch’s concern that the music should sound pianistic; her children quarrelling in the Tuileries, for example, are bathed in an affectionate glow and seem first cousins to those who played catch-me-who-can in Schumann’s "Kinderszenen". But she goes a stage further, insisting it should be done with no distortion of the score. Everyone else seems to suppose that, if a composer marks a piece lasting between four and five minutes pianissimo with no other dynamic variations except a couple of hairpin crescendo-diminuendos affecting just four bars and a sudden forte at the end, as Mussorgsky did in "Il vecchio castello", dynamic variation has to be found to make the piece interesting. Hatto, while of course shading her tone within the pianissimo, shows that the music will hold the attention as written. Only one thing leaves me perplexed. While she starts "Bydlo" fortissimo as written, at bar 21 she suddenly makes a most magical pianissimo. There is no trace of this in the score I have in front of me, issued by the International Music Company and claiming to be the "authentic edition" edited by Paul Lamm, though without any discussion of sources or possible variants. Richter’s juggernaut at this point lurches inexorably onwards at an indomitable fortissimo. But Joyce Hatto has met a wide range of remarkable musicians from many countries in the course of her career and has always been interested in information about variant readings, whether the composer be Mozart, Chopin or whomever, so it is likely that she has authority for this change; it would just be nice to know what it is. In all other respects her performance is very close to the "authentic edition".

This is, then, a performance very different from Richter’s; you need only compare Richter’s determined march into the picture gallery in the first promenade – he means business! – with Hatto’s more ruminative approach. It does share with Richter, though, a concern that the composer’s message should reach us unvarnished, however differently she carries out this intention. For myself, I shall keep Richter by me for his uncompromising dynamism, but I shall also keep Del Pueyo at hand for his rich characterisation of some of the pieces and Moiseiwitsch for his sheer verve, and I shall want to have Joyce Hatto for the greater degree of humanity she finds in music which can sometimes seem a little empty in its brilliance.

If you look at the front cover you might think you are getting only the "Pictures", but turn the package over and you find there is the little matter of a fill-up – Rachmaninov’s rare First Sonata. Since many collectors who have at least one "Pictures" may not have this, it provides a strong additional incentive for buying another "Pictures". Here is an expansive, but far from sprawling work (at least as it is played here) from Rachmaninov’s maturity. Hatto has long been a noted exponent of Rachmaninov and she captures finely the ebb and flow of the composer’s inspiration, neither screwing the pressure too manically nor dawdling luxuriantly, and is in complete control of the complex textures, replete with his usual countermelodies.

I have sometimes found that Concert Artist’s insistence on recordings with a concert hall perspective produces slightly pallid results but the results here are impressively full and should disappoint no one. There is a useful note; while telling us that the artwork is by Fantasia Design Studios they might have mentioned that the cover is based on Hartmann’s original drawing for the Great Gate of Kiev, his response to a competition by the Kiev City Council for a gate to commemorate the event of April 4th 1866. In a remarkable piece of doublethink, no one was allowed to say what had actually happened on April 4th 1866 (a bomb had been thrown at the Tsar but he escaped without injury). Neither Hartmann’s gate nor that of any other competitor was actually constructed.

Another notable production from Concert Artists.

Christopher Howell

see also reviews by William Hedley and Jonathan Woolf

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