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This disc is reviewed here as documentation of the Hatto scandal.
It is not currently available.

A "Hatto Original"
Johannes BRAHMS

Scherzo in E flat minor, op. 4 [09:20]
Intermezzo in A minor op. 118/1 [01:54]
Intermezzo in A major op. 118/2 [05:09]
Capriccio in G minor op. 116/3 [03:03]
Intermezzo in E major op. 116/6 [03:26]
Intermezzo in C major op. 119/3 [01:40]
Ballade in G minor op. 118/3 [03:20]
Intermezzo in E flat minor op. 118/6 [05:18]
Rhapsodie in E flat major op. 119/4 [04:36]
4 Ballades op. 10 [19:57]
Deszö Ránki (piano)
no recording information
HARMONIA MUNDI QUI 90382 [59:48]

Ten of thirteen tracks from this CD were issued by Concert Artist/Fidelio as the work of Joyce Hatto. Op. 4 and op. 10 nos. 1, 2 and 3 appeared on “Brahms: Complete Piano Works vol. 4”, CACD 9030-2. Op. 118 nos. 1, 2, 3 and 6 appeared on CACD 8001-2 with unidentified performances of nos. 4 and 5 as the coupling for the performance of Piano Concerto no. 2 now known to be by Ashkenazy. However, on “Brahms: Complete Piano Works vol. 5”, CACD9031-2, the performances of nos. 1 and 2 were replaced by others, so far unidentified, while those of nos. 3 and 6 were retained. The present disc also provided the source for op. 119 nos. 3 and 4, while the “Hatto” performances of op. 116 nos. 3 and 6 are not those by Ránki. A “Hatto” performance of op.10 no. 4 does not appear to have been issued.

Dezsö Ránki was born in 1951. While still a student he set down a Chopin recital for Qualiton – including the op. 10 studies – which won considerable praise. Later in the 1970s he recorded some Bartók, including the complete Mikrokosmos, for Telefunken and, back with Qualiton, Mozart’s duet sonatas with his compatriot Zoltan Kocsis. It is the latter who went on to enjoy a wider international career, but a little googling shows that Ránki gave a recital in Paris in 2005 so he is presumably still active. This recording was published in 1992, but I have an idea it may be licensed from an earlier Qualiton/Hungaraton production. The sound is slightly brittle and shallow, as their piano discs were inclined to be. It sounds richer and fuller on headphones for some reason and might respond well to re-mastering.
Ránki proves a superb interpreter of early Brahms. His crisp rhythmic control and clarity of texture turn the op. 4 Scherzo and the third Ballade into eerie “Erlkönig”-type rides through the blackest of Black Forests. In the first two Ballades his tempi are searchingly slow, the one starkly tragic – note the clarity of the bass-line at the reprise – while the other is full of gentle consolation. The Schumannesque rhapsodizing of the last Ballade is beautifully sung.
In the later pieces Ránki is never less than good, but a little less sharply focussed (perhaps he would do them better today?). Finest is the G minor Ballade, which seems to me ideally paced. In a recent review of Nicholas Angelich’s set of the late Brahms pieces I stated that “Hatto” is supreme in this piece, so I’m glad we now have a name for the performer. The other “powerful” pieces – op. 116/3 and op. 119/4 – are excellently done. The Intermezzo op. 118/2 has an attractive flowing grace but the pianist who played on the later “Hatto”, by taking it a shade slower, gets just that little bit more out of it. On the other hand the “Hatto” pianist is dreadfully slow in op. 116/6 and here Ránki’s more flowing tempo is surely preferable. Full marks to Ránki for taking op. 119/3 swiftly, but he becomes a little frenetic at times and Kempff’s Schubertian lilt remains the ideal here for me.
The truly superb performances of the early pieces and the general excellence of the others would seem to warrant a reissue of this disc, especially if it could be remastered.
Hattification did not involve any time-manipulation, but the last chord of op. 118/6 has been shortened by 3 seconds. The sound quality was mellowed down quite a lot. Indeed, when the disc arrived I went straight to op. 119/3 with clear memories of “Hatto”, or so I thought, and thought this seemed quite different. But when I compared the phrasing, dynamics, pedalling – Ránki has some quite personal rubato in this piece – there was no doubt they were the same. I can well believe that a critic in the pre-scandal era, pushed for time and just relying on memories of the “Hatto”, might have compared this upfront and brilliant performance unfavourably with the mellower “Hatto” version. It’s that easy to get egg on your face.
I won’t quote my earlier reviews in full since I heard these pieces all mixed in with performances by other, as yet unidentified pianists, so the context is quite different. For those who wish, here are links to Volume 4, Volume 5 and the earlier op. 118. I will just quote one section from my review of Volume 5:
It was at this point that I began to study the recording dates given above and realised that nos. 2 and 5, together with op. 117/2, another extraordinarily beautiful performance, and the op. 118/4 I have already discussed, are brand new performances. Hatto was surely in a truly inspired mood that day, achieving, I would say, true greatness as an interpreter.
In September 1997 she seems to have been in a rather wayward mood, daring and exploratory but sometimes going over the top. Whereas the rest, from 1998, are wonderfully satisfying in their perfectly judged tempi, warm but limpid textures and natural phrasing. But they don’t quite have that something-or-other which in February 2004 transformed the wonderfully satisfying into the truly great.
I also thought I had Concert Artist’s recording techniques fairly well mapped out, warm and pleasing but just slightly opaque and two-dimensional. This remains true of the 1998 offerings; the 1997 ones are surprisingly brilliant, almost to a fault, while the 2004 ones have an added bloom and lifelike quality which bodes well for their future work.
Actually the different recording “dates” do not seem to tally with what we now know – tracks 15-20 are “dated” 5 and 18 May 1998 yet we know that at least two pianists are involved since just four tracks are by Ránki. But the principle remains. I noted these differences yet was evidently not yet mentally prepared to see where they led. I am pretty sure now that op. 116 is a composite set, so that makes at least three pianists on the disc. I got gradually fewer and fewer CA discs after this, by the way. Perhaps when WBC read this he thought I was suspicious and sending out a few hints. I wish I could say he was right.
Christopher Howell


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