I have bad news for those who invested
in Marc-André Hamelin’s much-admired Hyperion recording of
the Dukas sonata. This one is even better. The superiority
seems to me to reside partly in an awareness of the architecture
of a work that is big in every sense, partly in a coalescence
of tonal beauty and chordal power, and partly in the deployment
of an unholy technical assurance to entirely and astutely
musical ends. Naturally this doesn’t mean that Hamelin’s performance
is less than powerful and convincing - rather that Hatto’s
is even more so.
The first movement
melody lines sing out in her hands; the E flat minor episode
is full of contained urgency. Concert Artist’s higher recording
level brings a sense of immediacy to the perspective; Hamelin’s
Hyperion is characteristically mellow but somewhat recessive.
This is useful in hearing the great digital clarity she brings
to bear. But the even more pertinent detail lies in the naturalness
of her expression, compared with which Hamelin sounds oddly
fidgety and sporting a rather self conscious rubato; he seems
to overplay paragraphal points. The great freedom he allows
himself can play havoc with the first movement’s structure
– it certainly conveys instability and is undeniably exciting
but it’s Hatto to whom I turn in preference for a clear-eyed
appraisal of this difficult and long movement.
I sense here the
truth of her booklet comments – required reading for Hattoists
by the way – regarding Giseking and the playing of French
impressionist music; how a Gieseking vogue seemed to annul
other points of view, other less pedal-obsessed ones, in the
years following Gieseking’s death. That’s a subject for another
occasion of course – George Copeland is one of the obvious
names to advance in support of this argument – but it bears
on her Dukas playing. One wouldn’t wish to characterise Hamelin’s
reading solely as one of rhetorical exaggeration because it
has many wonderful things about it but it’s Hatto who fuses
the nobility and the struggle and to maximum effect.
the first movement to make the point. The halo of sound in
the second reinforces it. Hatto is fleeter (as she is throughout)
and unfolds the gentle melodic material with direction. She
delineates its curve and cantilever bringing great tonal beauty
and roundness and evenness of tone. I am still troubled by
Hamelin’s occasionally disruptive approach but his playing
as such is superb nonetheless. As indeed he is in the scintillating
scherzo, which is certainly an event in his hands, a gossamer
start full of braggadocious brio. Still, I sense that Hatto
makes it more musical; less Sinding, more Chopin, perhaps,
to be crude. Her tempo is slightly steadier but she doesn’t
have to slow so much, as Hamelin does, for the start of the
three-part fugue and thereby keeps the underlying pulse going.
Once more this approach spans the vistas of this towering
work and one that allows Dukas the honour of his wit. Wit,
I confess, I find rather lacking in Hamelin’s playing generally,
and certainly here. Not so Hatto, who finds plenty. For all
its scintillation this scherzo has to be about something more
than mere mechanics and its Chopinesque moments fall the more
naturally under Hatto’s fingers.
Equally so the
finale, played with great distinction, the melodies given
their full rounded romantic richness, the sense of space paramount;
deft touches ensure full detonation of left hand accents,
Lisztian configurations are never vulgar. The playing gets
ever more exciting and dramatic, but it’s all very natural,
and that makes it the more dramatic still. Hamelin is a deal
slower and more italicised, more dogged, and deliberately
so. Again it’s the combination of tonal luminescence and a
sure and direct pathway that wins the day for Hatto, who ends
in blazoning glory.
Which hasn’t left
me much by way of comment regarding the “fillers.” Filler
is certainly the wrong word for the oft-ignored Variations,
Interlude et Finale (sur un thème de Rameau) written quite
shortly after the Sonata. But this will be a very worthwhile
discovery for many. It’s harmonically questing, clever and
skilfully laid out. She is powerfully incursive in the second
variation and utilises plenty of tone colours. Her fifth variation
is more than a touch creepy, the seventh glitters like Sherlock
Holmes’s Mazarin Stone and the Finale is a real study
in dextrous and witty pointing of detail. Hatto makes this
work really spring to life.
There are also
two other pieces, La plainte, au loin, du faune, a
grave and allusive tribute to the recently departed Debussy
and Prélude élégiaque a curiously personal and haunting,
chordally rich piece from 1909. As a finale there is de Falla’s
own 1935 tribute to Dukas, a grave and romantic envoi full
of deep chords and the great warmth of restraint.
I’ve not mentioned
Chantal Stigliani’s all-Dukas Naxos disc which replicates
this one but doesn’t include the de Falla tribute [8.557053].
She is a conscientious player but in all candour she is not
in the competition. Too much is cluttered and muddled and
not much springs to life; and with a noisy pedal action and
a clinical recording her traversal must be passed by.
notes are full of important detail. The sound as noted above
is full, clear and immediate, without any splintering in fortes.
And the bonus of Hatto’s own amusingly wry recollections is
a very real one. As I said, if you invested in Hamelin you
owe it to yourself, and also to Dukas, to seek out Hatto.