The steady tread with
which the Sonata opens is not easily
forgotten. Its layout, with busy figuration
in the middle register, a singing upper
line and a striding organ-pedal bass,
may suggest César Franck. But
in place of Franck’s religious fervour
Dukas seems to evoke the calm, luminous
world of classical Greece. It is indeed
a Mount Olympus of a movement. That
it has this effect is in no small measure
due to the Mozartian clarity and sense
of architecture the late, lamented Joyce
Hatto brought to it. I do not wish to
imply by this a lack of commitment,
indeed her belief in the cause is obvious
in every bar. Yet it is her lofty overview
which remains in the mind. It is an
extraordinary performance of an extraordinary
The calm opening of
the next movement, for all Hatto’s luminous
textures and linear clarity, left me
wondering if Dukas does not need a lot
of notes to engage us. Later the textures
become fuller and attention picks up.
The scherzo is brilliant,
toccata-like piece, with a highly contrasted
trio. The notes cascade from Hatto’s
fingers with apparently no effort at
all. I cannot help feeling, however,
that Dukas has drifted from his idealistic
opening to something closer to mere
entertainment and the somewhat doleful
fugue constituting its trio only adds
to the impression that the composer’s
vision is not a wholly coherent one.
After a short introduction
the finale opts for Franckian energy
and youthful fervour. It is an "easy"
solution but undeniably effective. Hatto
pitches in with an enthusiasm and fire
which carries all before it – I would
defy anyone not to respond.
In saying I cannot
imagine a finer performance of this
work I have to admit that I have not
actually been able to compare it with
others. A recent Hyperion disc by Marc-André
Hamelin was chosen by Colin Clarke as
one of his Records of the Year and is
obviously the most serious competitor
Readers may wish to turn to Jonathan
of the present disc since he has also
heard the Hamelin and explains in some
detail why he feels that, good as the
Hyperion version is, the Hatto is better
still and he made that a November Recording
of the Month. A recording once made
by John Ogdon was available to neither
of us. Britons were probably first alerted
to the existence of the Sonata by François
Thinat’s Arion LP. It was reviewed in
July 1972 by both Gramophone and the
EMG Monthly Letter, arousing more interest
than enthusiasm. If it the performance
really lasted "for almost an hour"
as EMG claimed – and so about 15 minutes
longer than Hatto’s – this might explain
their muted ardour.
Of course, the coupling
may be the deciding factor for you.
From Hamelin you get a very rare work
by Decaux. Hatto plays the rest of Dukas’s
slender output for piano.
I suggest the "Variations,
Interlude et Finale" may ultimately
be the Dukas work most deserving of
a place in the regular repertoire. It
is perhaps a banal consideration that
at 18-19 minutes it can be slipped into
a recital without driving away all but
specialists. Apart from this, its world
seems more completely consistent than
that of the Sonata. Dukas succeeds in
creating his own personal slant on the
world of Franck, bringing a harmonic
angularity and asperity, plus the odd
touch of droll humour, which makes him
a stepping stone between Franck and
Roussel, sidestepping Debussy altogether.
A correspondent on
the bulletin board drew attention, following
Jonathan Woolf’s review, to a version
of this piece by Yvonne Léfèbure.
Another recording was set down by Nicolai
Petrov (briefly available on Olympia)
and described by Gramophone in 1988
as a "tour-de-force". I can’t
imagine anyone denying that encomium
to Joyce Hatto as well.
"La plainte, au
loin, du faune" was Dukas’s contribution
to an album of pieces by several composers
in memory of Debussy published in 1920.
It reveals both his clear admiration
for the composer, his senior by three
years, but also his substantial extraneousness
to his world. Quotations from "L’après-midi
d’une faune" are intriguingly introduced
into an altogether more tangible setting.
élégiaque" was also
a contribution to an album. This time
the centenary of Haydn’s death was the
cause and the collection included works
by Debussy and Ravel. There was no particular
reason to adopt a grief-struck tone
this time but Dukas’s contribution was
clearly a deeply-felt affair.
These two shorter pieces
are from a session on 6 January 2006
which must have been among Hatto’s last.
Although her long struggle against cancer
was reaching its conclusion she retains
her classic poise, with some beautifully
The disc is concluded
by de Falla’s tribute to Dukas. I find
this the least interesting music on
the disc but that hardly affects the
value of the collection as a whole.
As well as thorough
notes by William Hedley, the booklet
also contains a valuable memoir by Hatto
herself. The first paragraph strays
afield to say some important things
about interpreting Debussy, particularly
with regard to performers who have aped
Gieseking’s pedalling but not his tempi,
obtaining "nonsensical" results.
Hopefully, the many recordings by Hatto
still awaiting editing will include
further Debussy, while her Ravel has
already been announced.
I sometimes wish a
really dreadful disc by Joyce Hatto
would come along just so I can prove
that I don’t automatically rubber-stamp
every note she plays with automatic
praise. But what can I say? Here is
yet more treasure from Hatto and Concert
Artist – beautifully and warmly recorded,
too – and I recommend it urgently to
all lovers of French piano music.
see also review
by Jonathan Woolf November Recording
of the Month
Concert Artists Catalogue