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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de pèlerinage – Suisse: Première Année – Suisse S160 (1855)
Chapelle de Guillaume Tell [6:18]
Au lac de Wallenstadt [3:06]
Pastorale [1:47]
Au bord d’une source [3:48]
Orage [4:33]
Vallée d’Obermann [14:07]
Eglogue [3:35]
Le mal du pays [5:50]
Les cloches de Geneve [6:20]
Scherzo and March S177 (1851) [12:42]
Joyce Hatto (piano)
rec. Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge, April 2003 (Années de pèlerinage); June 2003 (Scherzo and March)

Joyce Hatto was a Lisztian of long standing and a superb exponent of even the most coruscatingly difficult thickets of his virtuoso writing. Années de pèlerinage – Suisse sees a renewal of Liszt releases from Concert Artist and serves only to make clear, once more, how vital and all-embracing her playing remained.

She characterises each movement with vivid finesse and imagination. The chordal flourishes of La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell ring out like canon fire, the rolled chords emerging with refined glory. The playing is touching as well as majestic. Leslie Howard [Hyperion CDA67026] in his complete edition is attractive but somewhat reserved here; Brendel, to take another example, is metrical and tersely uncommunicative. Hatto’s waters lap with gentleness and gauzy momentum in Au lac de Wallenstadt; she brings out middle voicings with great naturalness. In the faster movements her rhythm is powerful and bracing. And in even so well known a piece as Au bord d’une source we find that her clarity and control of rhythm eclipses by some considerable distance even so good a player as Brendel. Orage profits from the more immediate Concert Artist set-up. There’s no glare or blast or splinter to Hatto’s visceral sound – she plays with technical brilliance but also a commanding surety of the structure; Howard brings an edgy, almost hysterical moment or two. Brendel doesn’t seem to believe in it at all; half-hearted playing of no assurance at all.

Vallee d’Obermann is the big, beating heart of the cycle and to it Hatto brings a full range of moods, reflections and feelings - all conveyed at a sure tempo. This is playing of a most superior and poetic kind and unfortunately makes players such as Brendel sound profoundly one-dimensional. She brings a more explicit and clear spirit to bear on the Eclogue. Howard plays beautifully here, sculpting phrases and colour with tangible warmth; but some may find it just a touch too manicured, a little mired in the kind of artifice that Hatto would never countenance. Les cloches de Genève reinforces the point. Howard is a good minute slower than Hatto and plays with a limpid and sophisticated burnish; Hatto is quicker and less inflected, taking a nobly fulsome approach. It rounds off a cycle of great immediacy and passion, real beauty of tone and a complete understanding of Liszt’s architectural dictates.

As a bonus - "a rare indulgence" – she plays the Scherzo and March. There’s no call for her apology. Whilst the 1851 opus may be chronologically close to the Sonata it’s something of a jeux d’esprit in comparison. But Hatto clearly loves it and the powerful effect it has on an audience. She plays it with real brio and engagement and sweeps one up in its drive.

The notes are principally those of Humphrey Searle, who certainly didn’t like the Scherzo and March. The 2003 recordings sound forthright and capture the piano spectrum with immediacy. The performances are all one could hope for – and more.

Jonathan Woolf



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