performance was issued in 2000 as the work of Joyce Hatto on Concert
Artist/Fidelio CACD-9084-2. Later versions substituted two of
the Etudes – see below.
this is it. The one that let the cat out of the bag. The most
famous record by the pianist everyone must have heard of by now.
all the music-loving world and his wife know, Andrew Rose’s tests
proved that ten tracks on the “Hatto” came from Simon, Feux
follets from Nojima and Chasse-neige from a pianist
still unidentified. With some time stretching/shrinking and a
changed sound-image into the bargain. But, just as I was lumbering
up to take on the Simon/“Hatto” comparison, Farhan Malik announced
on his Pianophiles forum the discovery of an early “Hatto” which
was a straightforward rip-off from the Simon in all its 12 tracks.
Malik is aware of two copies of this first version.
I started my comparisons I found that I seem to have an intermediate
version. Feux follets is certainly Nojima (see review),
but Chasse-neige is equally certainly Simon. I checked
numerous details but the big give-away is a clumsy edit – by BIS
– which adds a seventh beat to bar 25. The sound picture of the
Simon tracks has been changed radically, that of the Nojima track
much less. The timings are identical to the sources – Nojima as
well as Simon. So the sound-stretching/shrinking had not yet begun.
I am basing myself on the timings of the actual music, disregarding
the silence at the beginning and end of each track.
to the liner, the “Hatto” was published in 2000. This would have
been the unadulterated Simon version. My copy has a publication
date of 2002 on the back and the alleged recording dates are from
1990 and 2001. No doubt the latter was intended as an “explanation”
to anyone who noticed that the performance of Feux follets
was different. Does the definitive version claim even more
recent recording sessions?
widespread are these variant versions? We can make the assumption
that few of these CDs were factory made – perhaps none at all
until things started rolling near the end – but simply run off
the computer when a copy was needed. We might also suppose that
the Hattifiers were continually fiddling with the recordings in
their computer. Each copy, or batch of copies, would simply reflect
the state of play at the time.
is my original review. I am leaving the name of Hatto unchanged
since I wish to discuss afterwards the extent to which the changed
sound-picture might alter our perception of the performances.
The cover of this disc has
a cartoon of Liszt which I feel I ought to recognise (it’s unacknowledged
and has an indecipherable squiggle of a signature at the bottom);
the Liszt of popular legend, his arms and fingers flailing like
octopuses, the whole keyboard buckling and rising like a ship
breaking up in a storm, while the old hypocrite has a beatific
smile and a halo over his head. This image of the composer dies
hard, but listen to the words of Stanford who, as a young and
impressionable young man in his early twenties, heard Liszt
play at a semi-private gathering and recalled the event many
"He was the very reverse
of all my anticipations, which inclined me, perhaps from the
caricatures familiar to me from my boyhood, to expect to see
an inspired acrobat, with high-action arms, and wild locks falling
on the keys. I saw instead a dignified, composed figure, who
sat like a rock, never indulging in a theatrical gesture, or
helping out his amazingly full tone with the splashes and crashes
of a charlatan, producing all his effects with the simplest
means, and giving the impression of such ease that the most
difficult passages seemed like child’s play" (Pages from
an Unwritten Diary, Edward Arnold 1914, pp.148-9).
So how do you play Liszt? Well,
I studied certain of his works (not the Transcendental Studies)
with the redoubtable Ilonka Deckers-Küszler, who was most insistent
that this music was to be played with the same respect for the
text you would think right for a Beethoven sonata, without rhythmic
distortions, manic rubato or any other playing to the gallery.
In other words, you play it like the good music it is. Furthermore,
Deckers-Küszler did not claim this as a discovery of her own;
she was taught it at the Conservatoire of her native Budapest
in the early years of the 20th Century, and there
were teachers there who had it from Liszt.
Unfortunately, Ilonka Deckers-Küszler
was a somewhat mysterious character who never committed any
of her playing to disc; she felt, however, that her ideas were
preserved in the series of Liszt recordings made by her tragically
short-lived pupil Edith Farnadi for Westminster. Alas, these
have never been readily accessible and I have never yet succeeded
in hearing any of them, or even in knowing exactly which works
were recorded. Also of interest would be the Liszt recordings
by Louis Kentner, who studied at Budapest Conservatoire at about
the same time as Deckers-Küszler. Again, I have never succeeded
in tracking them down.
But what has all this to do
with Joyce Hatto? Quite simply, that she too sits down at the
piano and, with technical nonchalance but a complete lack of
any virtuoso fuss, just gets on with playing the pieces "straight",
like the good music they are. Whether she learnt this from some
past teacher or whether her instincts led her this way I know
not, nor does it matter much. She is in that royal line of Liszt
interpreters who believe this is great music and is to be played
Now, what you won’t get from
Hatto is the sort of filigree passage-work that makes you gasp
at the sheer crystalline evenness of it all. Her passage-work
is good, but it is not part of her agenda to parade its "goodness"
as an end in itself. In other words, if it’s Liszt the circus-master
you’re after, you won’t get it. But if you have resisted Liszt
because of his showy image, then these wonderfully musicianly
performances might make you change your mind.
If there is any shortcoming,
it is that Hatto tends more towards healthy robustness than
to winsome poetry. The booklet reprints 1956 notes by Humphrey
Searle, according to whom Harmonies du Soir
"conjures up the atmosphere of a peaceful evening with
the distant echoes of bells". Here Hatto, for better or
for worse, is full-toned and intense.
The recording dates are eleven
years apart. The sound is fairly consistent nonetheless, warm
and pleasing if not especially lifelike. All the same, if you
care about Liszt the composer you should not miss this disc.
I hope it will be noted that this
review, while of course favourable, is a little short of being
a rave. The adjective “great” is used only in conjunction with
the music. The disc was also reviewed for MusicWeb by Jonathan
Woolf. He, too, was favourable, but slightly preferred another
Concert Artist production, played by Sergio Fiorentino. If it
was played by Fiorentino, but that’s another story …
On the original disc, Simon is
heard to play with a powerful, somewhat bass-oriented tone.
Perhaps this is not surprising from a pupil of Claudio Arrau.
However, since his own brief introductory note stresses his
primary concern with Liszt’s “visionary conceptions”, this massive,
full sound was probably part of him from the beginning. He also
studied with Ilona Kabos who came from the same background as
Ilonka Deckers-Küszler, which may explain his preference for
musicality over virtuoso display. Not that his technique is
a mean one, I hasten to say.
The Hattifiers have lightened
the bass, rendering the whole sound-picture more distant, more
fanciful, maybe more lady-like. Heard thus, Simon is made to
parade a seemingly calmer mastery of the music. Several times,
as I followed the real Simon with the “Hatto”, I though at first
the performance was a different one, even a better one. Then,
as the various landmarks I had noted came up – details of timings,
accents, phrasing – I realized that the performances were in
fact the same.
The chosen sound-picture is to
some extent a personal decision by the sound engineer. Jürgen
Redlinger and Gregor Szöke, respectively the producer and engineer,
could have presented a recording with similar characteristics
to the “Hatto” if they had wished. So what did Simon actually
Well, Redlinger and Szöke had
heard him. If they were doing their job properly, they would
have attempted to reproduce the tonal qualities they heard.
Since Simon approved the results, we must assume they did so.
The trouble is, the lighter, airier
sound you hear on the “Hatto” is closer to my idea of what Liszt
should sound like. Others may not agree. Nojima and his engineers
apparently see it like me. The sound of his performance barely
needed modification to fit the new context.
Another question concerns the
substituted performances. Merely a ploy to put people off the
scent, or a genuine attempt to improve the product? As it happens,
Feux follets is the weakest performance of the twelve.
Alongside Nojima’s miraculous sparkle and grace it is revealed
as over-pedalled and inelegant. The Nojima performance brings
added value to the cycle as a whole. Jonathan Woolf had slight
reservations over Chasse-neige. Given that a morbid sensitivity
to criticism is another leitmotif of the Hatto affair, could
this have been enough to send the Hattifiers scurrying to replace
it? And so, with a little judicious adjustment of the tempi
and a further tweak to the sound-picture, an excellent if occasionally
heavy-handed cycle of Transcendentals was changed into a better
one. Did Hatto & Co. feel in some crazy way that they had
made it their own?
Still, if we want to hear the
Transcendentals played their way we must look for a pianist
who really plays them like that. Nojima, a reluctant recorder,
could be our man. All the same, Simon’s is no mean achievement.
He can fairly claim to have come close to his stated wish “to
work out both … their visionary character in the tonal sphere
as well as the orchestral character of their structure”. How
does he play them today, I wonder?