Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
The Complete Piano Sonatas
Volume 1 [57:11]
C minor op.13 – "Pathétique"
C sharp minor op. 27/2 – "Moonlight"
F minor op. 57 – "Appassionata"
Volume 2 [63:57]
C major op. 53 – "Waldstein"
D minor op.31/2 – "Tempest"
E flat op.81a – "Les Adieux"
Volume 3 [68:49]
D major op. 28 – "Pastorale"
G major op. 31/1 [23:07]
E flat major op. 31/3 [22:45]
Volume 4 [67:13]
3 Sonatas op. 2: 1. F minor [16:22],
2. A major [24:26], 3. C major [26:19]
Volume 5 [72:35]
3 Sonatas op. 10: 1. C minor [17:18],
2. F major [12:46], 3. D major [22:41]
Sonata in A flat op. 26 [19:49]
Volume 6 [65:13]
Sonata in E major op. 109 [19:26]
Sonata in A flat major op. 110 [18:46]
Sonata in C minor op. 111 [26:57]
Volume 7 [77:37]
2 Sonatas op. 14: 1. E major [14:12],
2. G major [16:58]
2 Sonatas op. 49: 1. G minor [08:10],
2. G major [08:14]
Sonata in F major op. 54 [11:27]
Sonata in F sharp major op. 78 [08:22]
Sonata in G major op. 79 [10:05]
Volume 8 [72:55]
Sonata in E minor op.90 [12:42]
Sonata in A major op. 101 [20:40]
Sonata in B flat major op. 106 – "Hammerklavier"
Volume 9 [70:10]
Sonata in E flat major op. 7 [28:48]
Sonata in B flat major op. 22 [25:05]
Sonata in E flat major op. 27/1 [15:12]
At least 22 of these performances were
issued as the work of Joyce Hatto on
Concert Artist CACD 8002-2 through to
8010-2 in 2003. See Appendix 1 for a
While some of the "Hatto"
pianists have disappeared into semi-oblivion,
John O’Conor’s website
shows his career to be still continuing.
Records became rarer during the last
decade but with a Beethoven concerto
cycle now under way I look forward to
judging him for what he is and not what
At a level of pure
convenience, the higgledy-piggledy order
in which the sonatas appear is a little
off-putting. It’s easy to see what happened.
The young man was engaged to record
the three most famous "name"
sonatas and did so successfully enough
to be asked to do more, then more again.
In the meantime he was making a name
for himself as a Beethoven specialist
with cycles on both sides of the Atlantic
and the magic name of Wilhelm Kempff
in his CV. So when the decision was
made to record the whole lot, the sonatas
already issued militated against a "logical"
order. I suppose Telarc could have recoupled
them all at the end – thus depriving
the kindly Hertfordshire couple of the
opportunity to do it for them later
on – but instead they just boxed them
as they were.
I decided to listen
in chronological order of recording,
though I note only now that Volumes
5 and 6 were set down in inverse order.
Beethoven’s own development is a known
factor so I thought it would be interesting
to follow O’Conor’s own pilgrimage through
these works. Here are my notes. I will
deal with the "Hatto" aspects
when I reach the five sonatas of which
I reviewed the fake discs.
Op. 13. A somewhat
low-key introduction. Anything like
dramatic weight in the opening chord
seems avoided and the dynamic range
is small. But the main Allegro is splendid,
terse and driving at a brisk but not
headlong tempo. Real Beethoven.
The Adagio cantabile
is unusually swift – 04:46 compared
with Schnabel’s 05:55 – but the melody
singles warmly over a gently murmuring
accompaniment. Mendelssohnian comfort
rather than Beethovenian gravity.
The Finale slips in
innocently, but this is a movement which
can wilt under too much weight.
Op. 27/2. Though
Beethoven himself didn’t call this sonata
the "Moonlight", O’Conor’s
calm yet mobile opening movement, with
the light hovering over every note,
gives credence to the title. The Allegretto
is gentle but makes its mark – this
is a movement that often passes for
nothing. The Finale has both clarity
and splendid drive. A real Beethoven
sound. I only missed the feeling that
you get from the very greatest interpreters
that some sort of elemental force is
being unleashed as the music pursues
Op. 57. The
first movement is notably unindulgent.
The second subject flows at pretty well
the same tempo as the first. Plenty
of power and drive here and in the finale.
Again, I miss the sense that O’Conor
is going beyond mere excellence, though
excellence is not to be sneezed at.
Some reservations about
the Andante con moto where he seems
to be aiming for a Schubertian lyricism
that only works in the later variations.
The opening lacks profundity.
A disarming feature
of Volume 1 is that the booklet has
notes by the late Clive Lythgoe which
imply a romantic vision completely at
variance with O’Conor’s own approach.
I am curious to know how a much older
pianist came to be writing the notes
for this disc and I wonder if Lythgoe,
in one of his several attempts at a
come-back, actually set down performances
– complete with booklet notes – which
Telarc felt unable to issue. Be that
as it may, the notes are rather fascinating
and their racy, discursive style and
occasional name-dropping – "The
great English pianist and interpreter
of Beethoven, Dame Myra Hess, said to
me …" – suggest they formed a blueprint
for some later efforts supposedly written
by Joyce Hatto. The rest of the cycle
has good notes of a "normal"
a likeable record.
Op. 53. Signs
of Historically Informed Practice here.
The repeated chords of the opening theme,
so often pedalled to give them a sort
of orchestral throb, are rigorously
clear, the sound light and dry. As in
the Appassionata, O’Conor keeps going
in second subject territory. Despite
his avoidance of a great wash of sound,
O’Conor finds plenty of power and excitement.
In the Adagio molto
O’Conor proves to have acquired a greater
ability to suggest Beethovenian meditation
Coming after the extreme
clarity of these two movements, the
opening of the finale creates a real
shock. Beethoven has provided some very
long pedals here, requesting the pianist
to keep his foot firmly on the floor
through several changes of harmony.
Conventional wisdom – as exemplified
by the "great" Sir Donald
Tovey – has it that this was possible
on the lighter-toned pianos of Beethoven’s
own day but is intolerably messy on
a modern grand such as O’Conor’s Hamburg
Steinway. Some pianists pedal conventionally,
changing with the harmonies, some try
a compromise – Tovey’s recommendation
– retaining a part of Beethoven’s effect
with a bit of nifty half-pedalling.
O’Conor’s takes Beethoven at his word.
The beauty of this almost Debussian
sound, in the context O’Conor has created
so far, has to be heard to be believed.
Each time the theme comes back it is
as though a door is momentarily opened
onto another world. I should add that
this is also made possible by the extreme
delicacy of touch O’Conor uses here
– not everybody could do it.
another famous pedal effect in the first
movement of this sonata – in the recitative
passage where the first theme is recapitulated.
Beethoven asks for the pedal to be held
down right through this. O’Conor once
again obeys. He takes the passage very
slowly and, rather like an organist
in a very long acoustic, you can sense
him waiting for the sound to clear sufficiently
for him to proceed with the next note.
For the rest, he is
clean and clear. The drum taps in the
second movement are kept rigorously
staccato. But sometimes he has to compromise.
I wondered if he was going to try to
play the filigree arpeggios accompanying
the return of the principal theme of
this movement without pedal. He doesn’t,
wisely I should say. Altogether I find
this performance satisfying rather than
inspiring. I entirely agree, for example,
with his steady Allegretto for the finale,
but I can’t get very excited about it.
that’s about how it is with "Les
Adieux". The steady first movement
is respectful more than anything and
I found this the least interesting of
the three performances. Most effective
is the finale, which certainly goes
as "Vivacissimamente" (Beethoven’s
Italian, not Manzoni’s!) as one could
All the same, an advance
on Volume 1, with the "Waldstein"
possibly announcing a Beethoven player
whole sonata finds O’Conor at his most
dead-pan. One admires the clarity and
fidelity but that’s about all. The Andante
is taken at a brisk two-in-a-bar which
may be what the score says but it does
seem to squeeze much of the emotion
out. I respect O’Conor’s insistence
on keeping the staccato bass absolutely
clear, like an orchestral pizzicato,
but this means that when the melody
comes in octaves the legato is lost.
Personally I’d rather retain the singing
line with a touch of judicious pedal,
even if this does compromise the staccato
bass a little.
I also liked the recording
quality less than the previous issues.
While not entirely lacking in reverberation
it is of a slightly padded cell variety.
Still, in the other two sonatas, where
the playing held me more, it didn’t
is extremely good. Cleanness and crispness
are the order of the day in the first
movement. Coupled with a good dose of
verve, it sounds exactly right.
Very well judged, too,
is the long Adagio grazioso, perfectly
poised between grace and profundity.
O’Conor is less dogmatic about the staccato
bass here, allowing a touch of pedal
when the right hand has its trills.
The steady tempo for the final Allegretto
is excellent except that he moves ahead
here and there.
and clarity don’t seem to tell the full
tale as they do in op.31/1. I feel a
lack of the sheer generosity of phrasing
in the first movement you get from players
of the old school. The Menuetto is very
slow to my ears, sounding rather like
a Mendelssohn Song without Words. It’s
actually very pleasant, but the trio
stagnates at this tempo. Best is the
finale which has real brio.
Despite the success
of op.31/1 this disc left me wondering
if this cycle is leading anywhere in
This was reviewed by
me as Volume 1 of the "Hatto"
cycle. Issues of this are dated 2003
and 2005. I have the former. At that
time the rip-off was a fairly straightforward
one. No time-manipulations: going by
the actual music – net of any silence
before or after – the timings are virtually
identical. For the record, op.2/3 seemed
to have an extra second in the 2nd
movement, a second less in the finale.
Since I am working manually, simply
noting the starting and ending times
on my CD counter, I tend to discount
a difference of a mere second as manual
error. However, evidence has been found
on other discs that the Hattifiers,
before they discovered time manipulation,
occasionally lengthened or shortened
pauses in the music, so a minute examination
may reveal something of the sort here.
There has, however,
been considerable intervention over
the silences at the end of each movement,
usually but not always to increase them,
with the result that the "Hatto"
produces a total timing exactly 10 seconds
The sound picture has
been softened for the first two sonatas,
O’Conor’s pleasantly fresh "young
man" image skewed round to suggest
the calm distillation of years of experience,
if you wish to set your imagination
working that way. Oddly enough, for
no. 3 the bass has been lightened, removing
a touch of aggression here and there.
There’s a fair bit of electronic crackle
on the last track of the "Hatto"
which I certainly didn’t comment on
before. Perhaps this is one of WB-C’s
homemade CDRs rather than a factory-made
product and it’s beginning to go bad
A correspondent has
provided me with timings (from his computer)
of the 2005 issue, and it looks as though
some time shrinking has been applied.
The overall timing is about a minute
less. The first track lasts 3:32 instead
of 3:42. Since the 2003 version (and
the O’Conor original) contains exactly
3:32 of actual music, and since some
sort of pause is required before the
next movement begins, the music must
have been shortened by 4 seconds at
the very least and probably anything
up to 10. Most of the other differences
are smaller but I imagine the performances
have been spiced up a bit all round.
Here is the original
Having spent much
of my listening time over the past month
in the company of Joyce Hatto’s Mozart,
I might be forgiven for wondering if
the warm, gentle songfulness which characterises
her approach to the earlier composer
might not translate well to Beethoven.
But of course a real artist seeks the
right style and sound for each composer
and even though this is early Beethoven
(to which a Mozartian approach might
have been plausible) the firm rhythmic
drive and clear cut sound-world with
which the F minor sonata opens proclaims
this Beethoven, and very good Beethoven
In Mozart, Hatto
is often inclined to choose slower tempi
than her colleagues. In Beethoven this
is not the case, as can be seen from
the following table drawn from comparisons
I had to hand:
* indicates the
presence of a second repeat usually
** [the one
change I have made is to substitute
the real O’Conor timings. These are
as shown by my computer, since Telarc’s
printed timings are about as accurate
Of course, timings
can be misleading. For example, in the
Adagio of op.2/1, both Hatto and Brendel
(just three seconds between them) achieve
a mixture and gravity and flow which
suggests they have hit upon the ideal
tempo; this would seem to be borne out
by Tan, whose swifter tempo squeezes
the expression out of the music, and
by Nikolayeva who, while no doubt feeling
every moment of her slower tempo, gets
bogged down by her own weight. Then
along comes Schnabel, the slowest of
all, and the result is absolutely sublime;
wonderful if you can do it, but very
boring for your listeners if you can’t
(as can be heard when Tan attempts something
similar in the Largo appassionato of
Likewise, in the
concluding Rondo of op.2/3 the timings
do not reveal that both Brendel and
Nikolayeva enunciate the great downward
leap in the theme (which Tovey compared
to a violinist’s or a singer’s "portamento")
with a mannered rhythmic hiccup and
an ungainly emphasis on the first of
the lower notes. Nor do the timings
reveal that both sound heavier-handed
than Hatto even though one is apparently
faster and the other apparently slower.
However, while I feel on the whole that
Nikolayeva smothers these early sonatas
with excessive point-making, the robust
humour (and staccato left-hand) with
which she affronts the episode from
b.26 suggests that she possesses certain
insights into Beethoven that cannot
be ignored. In this finale, though,
I am not sure that Hatto’s middle way
is ideal either, for both Perahia (beautifully
poised) and Schnabel seem closer to
suggesting Beethoven’s "Grazioso" marking.
occurs in the finale of op.2/3. Brendel
may be only three seconds longer than
Hatto, but his full-toned playing sounds
slower and heavier, while Nikolayeva’s
reading (one second longer still) is
rather confused and actually sounds
to be faster. Perahia, with his light
finger technique, scampers away deliciously,
but since he has applied the same lightness
elsewhere, it comes as the finale to
nothing very much. So once again we
come back to Schnabel as the ideal (and,
in spite of his reputation for catching
crabs, he can be remarkably nifty in
these early works).
The quirkiness of
the first movement of op.2/2 seems to
thrive on a more personalised approach
– here Brendel and Nikolayeva come into
their own. Whereas the more orchestral
solidity of the first movement of op.2/3
inspires a more straightforward approach
from all these artists; the differences
between them are at their smallest here.
The first movement of op.2/1 proves
remarkably difficult to bring off and
here Hatto’s sheer lack of fuss pays
However, at this
point I have to register a certain ambivalence
in my own reactions. I listened first
to the Hatto disc, since this was the
one I had to review. I then sampled
parts of all twelve movements in the
other recordings and I was left with
the impression that the justness, the
fidelity to the text and the well-chosen
tempi of Hatto represented a sort of
golden mean from which the others departed
at their peril if with intermittently
Then I returned
to Hatto and found that the lack of
these intermittent revelations suggested
a more limited emotional range (a pleasant
but slightly recessed recording, more
suitable for Mozart, does not help).
I was reminded of a timid teenager (teenagers
used to be timid once!) admitted to
the adults’ table for the first time
and eating with her elbows pinned to
her sides for fear of jogging those
to the right and left of her. A certain
Beethovenian boldness is lacking; all
the other artists (and many more, of
course) give greater offence here and
there, but their willingness to come
down on one side of the fence rather
than another provides moments of greater
inspiration too. The ultimate value
of Hatto’s Beethoven cycle, which is
only at the beginning, will depend on
her ability (and maybe that of her engineers)
to increase her range as the music itself
develops (is she deliberately holding
something back in these early sonatas?).
So what are my conclusions?
I don’t know! Unquestionably, the sublimity,
warmth and humanity of Schnabel’s slow
movements will remain as an inspiration
for all time; studio nerves (and the
ancient recording, though the latest
Naxos transfer has done wonders for
it) sometimes compromise the rest. From
Hatto you will get a warm sound and
a satisfying solution to all twelve
movements. From the others, you will
have to pick and choose. If you are
tempted by Brendel’s or Nikolayeva’s
first movement of op.2/2, for example,
you will need Perahia’s finale to the
same sonata to offset the heaviness
of the other two. Best still to accept
that an ideal solution will never exist,
and try to buy as many versions of these
sonatas as you can afford. Not forgetting
Has anything changed?
Well, if you listen to this as Vol.
4 of a cycle rather than Vol. 1, you
know some of the answers. You know that
this laid-back approach is going to
continue into some of the early-middle-period
works like op.31. You also know that
there are some successes in the later-middle-period
works, notably the Waldstein. Hearing
the disc in its new – real – context,
I am still wondering whether this Beethoven
cycle is going to add up to anything
Although I referred
originally to the differences between
"Hatto’s" Mozart and her Beethoven,
now I’m aware that two pianists are
involved I am rather struck by the Hattifiers’
cleverness in choosing two pianists
– Haebler and O’Conor – who, in spite
of their generational and cultural differences,
seem concerned above all to produce
clearheaded, calm and faithful readings.
I’ve never heard Haebler in Beethoven
but I suppose her approach would not
be so very different from O’Conor’s.
was also reviewed
by Jonathan Woolf.
Op. 10. Hardly
worth going into individually. The best
thing is the slow movement of no. 1,
which has a real sense of repose even
though it is not particularly slow,
and a soft, luminous tone quality. It
is good to hear the Allegretto of no.2
neither dragged nor hurried, but the
wide-ranging "Largo e mesto"
of no.3, one of the greatest things
Beethoven had done to date, is too cool.
Elsewhere, appreciation of the neat,
clear manner tends to dim as no very
great statement emerges. The first movement
of no.2 should be ideal for this particular
style, but it actually comes out a little
brusque and clipped.
Op. 26. Beethoven’s
temperature may have risen, but not
O’Conor’s. Again, one appreciates him
mainly for what he doesn’t do. Maybe
it is out of order to drag out the "Marcia
funèbre" in a sort of Klemperer-conducts-the-Eroica
style, but those who attempt such a
thing might at least end up by saying
something. This just sounds humdrum.
Similarly, one welcomes in theory the
reminder that the finale is "Allegro"
not "Presto". Yet performances
which find in this pair of movements
a premonition of Chopin’s Funeral march
followed by the wind whistling over
the graves express so very much more.
Finally, the minor-key variation in
the first movement is interpreted so
literally as to suggest blank incomprehension
in the face of an episode which can
sound as mysterious as the sphinx. More
than Beethoven, this is anti-Beethoven.
Let us hope that the sheer stature of
the later works will drag something
more out of O’Conor, as it seemed to
a few years before in the "Waldstein"
and as I seem to remember it did in
Op. 109. The
alternating tempi in the first movement
relate well. No great spiritual depth
in the "Adagio espressivo"
but the overall impression is good.
The "Prestissimo" second movement
has excellent vitality. There is initially
a certain flatness to the enunciation
of the variation theme of the last movement.
One doesn’t want it to be smothered
with rubato but there is a feeling that
he is playing the notes rather than
the music. However, as the variations
develop and the music acquires complexity
O’Conor rises to the occasion with clear
yet luminous textures. Overall, a more
than worthy account of music that doesn’t
exactly play itself.
Op. 110. This
is better still. It is not easy to relate
all the different ideas to one another
in the first movement but O’Conor achieves
much by simply taking Beethoven at his
word. Also here, the "Allegro molto"
second movement is very fine. The curious
"Adagio ma non troppo" recitative
section has a spiritual depth we don’t
always meet in this cycle and O’Conor
is one of the few who takes up – and
resolves – the problem of the "Bebung".
These are the repeated notes which Beethoven
has tied, but over which he has also
marked a change of finger. The idea
is that the note has a second strike,
but a scarcely perceptible one, inside
its own echo, as it were. It was fairly
easily managed on the pianos of Beethoven’s
day, much more difficult on a modern
grand, though possible, as O’Conor shows.
On some inferior modern grands and many
uprights it may not be possible at all.
Why, though, did O’Conor ignore the
"Bebungs" in his much more
superficial account of op. 28?
The "Arioso dolente"
(grieving aria) has the right gravity
and the fugue sections are splendid.
The tempo is broad but the momentum
builds up powerfully. The part-writing
is beautifully clear – should O’Conor
perhaps be giving us some Bach? The
return of the fugue, in G major with
the melody inverted, is magical.
Op. 111. O’Conor
completes the hat-trick with a superb
op. 111. My only criticism of the first
movement is that the opening dotted
rhythms are not quite pointed enough
– a sort of compromise between an single
and a double dot. The main part of the
movement, "Allegro con brio ed
appassionato" has splendid clarity
and drive. The enunciation of the "Arietta"
has perhaps the same problem as we found
in the variation theme of op. 109, but
as the variations gain in complexity
this elusive music, which even today
looks pretty weird on paper, is unfolded
with authority, lucidity and considerable
magic as we enter the rarefied atmosphere
of the trills.
Schnabel brought special
spiritual insights to these last three
sonatas but O’Conor’s achievement is
considerable, all the more remarkable
in view of the apparent doldrums into
which this cycle was steering.
Op. 14/1. Beethoven’s
marking is "Allegro" but four-in-a-bar,
though the music looks as if it should
go in two. O’Conor takes Beethoven at
his word, with an attractively gentle,
proto-Schubertian lyricism. Others have
found more brio, but this is convincing
on its own terms.
brings another problem and few but Richter
have had the courage to take the marking
as applying to the crotchets (fourth-notes),
which is what Beethoven seems to mean.
This movement is often interpreted as
a sort of lilting Siciliana.
O’Conor takes a mid-way position, not
degenerating into a Siciliana,
but not giving the music as much space
as I personally prefer. Others may feel
he has found the golden mean.
In the finale O’Conor
once again notes that Beethoven’s "Allegro"
is qualified by the word "comodo"
(comfortable) and he makes no attempt
to hurtle us out of our seats.
Op. 14/2. If
in op. 14/1 I could side with those
who prefer a spot more temperament even
in the gentlest Beethoven, I was completely
won over by the way O’Conor begins its
companion. He slips in very gently and
tenderly, with a sort of golden glow
over the playing. I found this little
short of sublime. I could, perhaps,
have wished for a more furrow-browed
treatment of the one more dramatic moment
in the development and, after a delightful
reading of the "Andante" variation
movement, I would definitely have liked
more feeling, in the finale, that the
young Beethoven is kicking the traces.
But lovely, thoughtful playing.
Op. 49/1. The
"Andante" first movement unfolds
gently and unhurriedly. Another occasion
where O’Conor verges on the sublime
in music which can seem merely bland.
The concluding Rondo scampers along
Op. 49/2. A
calm and collected first movement. Young
children studying this ubiquitous work
will probably prefer to model themselves
on something more temperamental. In
later life they may come to see the
point of O’Conor’s delicate and tasteful
reading. The minuet has a nice lilt.
Op. 54. This
sonata begins with another minuet, and
O’Conor makes it a very intimate, reflective
one, with the result that the pounding
octave passages with which it alternates
never become hectic. I think Schnabel
gets more out of this strange movement
than O’Conor, but to get anything out
of it at all is an achievement.
There is no attempt
to exceed Beethoven’s "Allegretto"
in the finale. By maintaining absolute
clarity – with a minimum of pedal –
and by allowing the offbeat sforzandos
to cut across the texture like bells,
this becomes a "moto perpetuo"
by sheer steadiness. An original and
interesting reading, though not one
which actually goes against any of Beethoven’s
Op. 78. This
time I am less sure about O’Conor’s
steadiness. There are places where this
music seems to want to rage, and O’Conor
keeps his cool. The alternating forte
and piano chords, for example, or the
clumping bass that precedes the left
hand trill. This is mature Beethoven,
albeit on a small scale, and I think
O’Conor does not give us the whole story.
He also omits the second repeat, which
is normally taken in view of the brevity
of the sonata. I must say that in view
of the unvaried approach I did not miss
it whereas normally it does not seem
superfluous. The finale, too, is a little
short on vivacity.
Op. 79. The
first movement prances along delightfully
and the "Andante" – the prototype
of all the Mendelssohn Gondola Songs
to come – is predictably calm and luminous.
A skittish finale rounds off a delightful
Indeed, it’s a delightful
disc, even if I personally would have
preferred a little more blind rage or
gawky boisterousness to invade it here
and there. Those who object to a Beethoven
who is forever preaching and teaching
may not agree. I’m beginning to see
what drew the elderly Hattifiers to
this cycle. I won’t be so rude as to
say O’Conor plays like a terminally
ill old lady, but his calm and collected
manner are not exactly what you would
expect of a young Celt either.
Op. 90. O’Conor
is slightly more interventionist than
usual in the first movement, holding
back at a few points where Beethoven
has specifically indicated a tempo.
This results in a relaxed reading of
some very pithy music which yields more
to a concentrated approach. The other
movement is lovely though, with an innocent,
Op. 101. O’Conor
solves a lot of this work’s problems
just by keeping his cool. The songful
first movement has an attractive lilt
while not lacking in gravity. The following
movement in march time strides forward
firmly, yet without any attempt to inflate
the sound. Many performances suggest
that Beethoven is striving after orchestral
sonorities. With Schnabel, for example,
it seems music written more against
the piano than for it. Here it sounds
The strange slow movement
is meditatively done while the finale
bowls along splendidly. Again, O’Conor
is unfazed by the fugal development
section which has inspired some rather
more cliff-hanging treatment elsewhere.
This is rewarding, confident Beethoven
the limitations of which perhaps lie
in its success. No one could say that
O’Conor has not achieved what he apparently
set out to do, but he is not attempting
to follow Beethoven in his ultimate
spiritual journey. Still, reliability
and lucidity are not to be despised.
Op. 106. Here
I have "Hatto" to compare
and this time I have the later 2004
version rather than the older one from
2003. Again a correspondent has provided
timings of the other version and they
suggest it was a straight rip-off without
time manipulation, though with creative
editing of the silences. Going by the
actual music, without silences, I find
that the first two movements are still
"straight" in 2004, clocking
in at 11:00 and 02:22 respectively.
The slow movement has been stretched
by 18 seconds, from 14:39 to 14:57.
Without resorting to complicated mathematic
calculations, the stretching seems to
have been applied consistently over
the movement, without the internal stretching
and shrinking that has been found in
later "experiments". At 04:52
in the O’Conor, "Hatto" was
6 seconds behind, at 8:30 this had increased
to 11, at 11:27 it had become 15. The
finale has been shortened by 15 seconds.
Again, the shrinking seems consistent.
By the end of the introduction – 01:57
– Hatto is already 2 seconds ahead,
increasing to 9 by 07:20.
The somewhat delicate
sound picture of the original has been
fiddled around with to give the impression
of a larger, more powerful instrument
with a big, booming bass, and in a livelier
acoustic. Before discussing how this
may affect our perception of the performance,
here is the original review. It seemed
to me impractical to separate my comments
on op. 7, which completed the disc.
About half-way through
this performance of the "Hammerklavier"
it crossed my mind how pianistic the
music was sounding. Let me try to explain.
This largest and grandest of all Beethoven’s
sonatas is generally considered – nay,
is – the ultimate challenge because
Beethoven, by all accounts a very great
pianist while his hearing remained unimpaired,
in later life wrote abstractly, ideally,
without apparent regard for how well
or badly the music actually fitted onto
the instrument. The pianist would just
have to come to terms with it. This
means that this music is in a different
category compared with other "ultimate"
challenges, such as the Studies of Chopin
and Liszt, which were conceived by pianists
with consummate techniques who threw
out a challenge to other pianists, but
a challenge which was designed to be
conquered. If most of us still struggle
with them, it is because of failings
in our techniques, it is not because
the challenge is an unpianistic or even
an impossible one. The "Hammerklavier",
on the other hand, will remain forever
a challenge because it was not specifically
designed to be conquered. Or was it?
I can only report that, in Joyce Hatto’s
hands, this work, without sounding easy
– it teems with notes – always sounds
perfectly conceived for the piano. Beethoven
is not made to sound as if he were trying
to make the piano do something it was
not intended to do.
What is the secret
of this? I wonder if, subliminally,
many artists have been influenced by
the fact that no less a Beethovenian
than Weingartner saw fit to orchestrate
the work, thereby implying that the
piano alone was not up to realising
it in all its power and magnificence.
And, maybe, also by the fact that the
pianist most associated with Beethoven
in many people’s minds, Artur Schnabel,
set down a nerve-racking onslaught on
the sonata (except for a deeply expressed
slow movement) which rather reinforced
the impression of an undertaking beyond
Now I don’t suppose
Joyce Hatto found this work easy – it
would be trite to say that anyone who
can play all that Liszt without apparent
problems should be able to manage this
because the "Hammerklavier" is a difficult
in a different sort of way – yet she
seems able to encompass its demands
in the same sort of spirit as she encompasses
those of the relatively accessible op.
7 which completes the disc. And this
in spite of some swift tempi – she wisely
doesn’t attempt Beethoven’s impossible
metronome marking for the first movement
but she certainly doesn’t dawdle, and
her second and fourth movements are
both a few seconds shorter than Schnabel’s.
She also doesn’t try to make the piano
go beyond being a piano – her tone is
satisfyingly full without either hammering
or hamming. She is also unfailingly
observant of all the dynamics and other
performance markings – quite simply,
the score (and the composer) seemed
to speak to me directly, without the
intervention of an interpreter.
Some readers might
be reading through the lines. Is the
performance academic in its correctness?
Does it sell you short in putting over
the sheer scale of the music? I can
only report that I did not find it so.
It sounds spontaneous, and in place
of "correctness" I would prefer to say
"rightness". In short, ironically in
view of what that conductor actually
did to the "Hammerklavier", it has the
qualities which inform the best of Weingartner’s
performances of the symphonies.
And never more,
I would say, than in the slow movement,
where Hatto prefers a Schubertian mobility
to Schnabel’s profoundly religious meditation.
Without any sense of haste, this is
Beethoven at his most pastoral, with
a wonderfully song-like, open air feeling.
Schnabel’s depth remains a thing to
be wondered at, but I found that this
moved me equally, though in a different
According to the
track lists, the op. 7 sonata comes
first on the disc, and it would have
seemed a logical solution; for some
reason the "Hammerklavier" is actually
placed first – don’t try to listen to
the earlier sonata immediately after
op. 106. Here again, Hatto is an unfailing
selfless and musical interpreter, with
natural-sounding tempi and a total observance
of every marking. And again, the sheer
rightness of it may lead you to underestimate
the amount of thought that has gone
into it. To gauge the first movement
so exactly, allowing it to rage at one
moment and meditate at another without
any change of tempo, is no easy matter.
I have sometimes
found Concert Artist’s recordings a
little two-dimensional. William Barrington-Coupe
has wished to point out to me that their
policy is to make a sound that is credibly
that which you hear sitting in the concert
hall, rather than the close-up sound
often favoured. I am still not entirely
convinced that they have succeeded in
the Bach-Liszt disc which occasioned
his comments, but I think they have
succeeded here. The recording has body
and bloom without in any way imposing
itself. It has that same feeling of
rightness about it as has the playing.
A great many pianists
have set down a great many insights
into the "Hammerklavier". A definitive
recording is impossible. Here, at all
events, is a "Hammerklavier" you can
trust, and there aren’t all that many
The remark about how
pianistic the music sounds emerges,
if anything, reinforced by the more
limpid original sound. As in op. 101,
this is both a strength and a limitation,
and one can understand why the Hattifiers
wished to beef it up a bit. More crucially,
does the fairly minor time manipulation
change anything much? Perhaps very,
very slightly if you listen to one after
the other. I did feel at times that
the slow movement was fractionally more
spacious, but I am not sure it changes
anything much. It’s a lightweight, proto-Schubertian
concept – I don’t mean by this that
Schubert is lightweight, of course –
and you can’t turn it into anything
else by slowing it down. If a performance
is to have intellectual gravity and
spiritual depth, it has to be put there
by the performer. Even if the Hattifiers
had stretched O’Conor by three minutes
– resulting in Schnabel’s tempo, more
or less – the result wouldn’t be Schnabel’s
performance, it would still be O’Conor’s
performance slowed down. Hearing the
two side by side, I think O’Conor sounds
better still with the tempo he really
played and the acoustic he really played
in. Some will find it superficial but
on its own terms I think it is attractive
and tells us a lot about one aspect
of the music.
The extra speed in
the finale may not amount to much, but
hearing the "Hatto" after
the O’Conor I feel I really should have
noticed something was wrong. Without
suggesting that O’Conor is the greatest
piano technician in the world, I think
he has got this finale off pat at the
fastest tempo at which it is possible
without apparent fuss. If O’Conor himself
decided to throw caution to the winds
and play it a tad faster no matter what
happens – the Schnabel method – the
nature of the performance would change.
Refined mastery would change into cliff-hanging.
So that’s what’s wrong with the "Hatto".
It ought to sound like cliff-hanging
but it doesn’t.
Still, not all that
long ago we were living in a world where
we heard LP and cassettes on equipment
which, when not of professional standard,
often ran fractionally under and over
speed. Older analogue recordings are
not always transferred at precisely
the right speed even today, without
there being any attempt at deception.
Our perceptions of recorded music are
a little more flexible than we care
to imagine. I doubt if we can reasonably
expect anyone to hear anything unnatural
in "Hatto" unless he hears
O’Conor immediately before. I stand
by my original judgement, then.
This review provoked
a letter from Barrington-Coupe which
I couldn’t find when I wrote, at great
haste, my article
"Joyce Hatto: some thoughts, some
questions and a lot of letters".
I later found I still had it and posted
it on the bulletin board, but since
not everybody has time to search for
it there I repeat it here – see Appendix
3 – as further evidence of the almost
unbelievable way in which the Hattifiers
created an elaborate background to these
Hammerklavier and op. 7 were also reviewed
by Jonathan Woolf.
Op. 7. My brief
original review can be read above under
op. 106, with which this sonata was
coupled in the Hattified version. Hattification
produced the usual larger but vaguer
sound-picture but no time manipulation.
This time I allowed
a lapse of over 24 hours after hearing
the "Hammerklavier" and I
feel I should have dedicated more space
to the performance. The first fortissimo
chords have a ringing authority we haven’t
always found in this cycle – a real
Beethoven sound – and the dynamics are
finely graded throughout the first movement.
The slow movement attains real depth
so, with vital but unhurried readings
of the remaining two movements this
is a very rewarding performance indeed.
Op. 22. My hopes
that O’Conor was going out on a high
were a bit dashed. The first movement
is fair enough but the slow movement
is rather swift and unvaried, achieving
little more than politeness. The minuet
is a shade too fast to have a real swing
to it and the finale lacks authority
in the angrier moments.
Op. 27/1. Sound
playing all through but I was too conscious,
for example, of the six regular beats
all through the slow movement. The finale
often sounds as if it’s about to take
off but never quite does.
A conclusion in line
with the strengths and weaknesses of
the cycle. Undoubtedly, O’Conor has
produced a number of very fine performances,
the highlights being opp. 7, 14/2, 49/1,
57, 79, 101, 106, 110, 111. Several
of the others are very good while others
again – rather too many, I feel – are
understated. This would not gain my
vote for a place among the great cycles,
but I would not be without its best
moments. Those who feel that Beethoven
has a tendency to shout too loud may
find their point of entry to his world
in these very civilized performances.
I can’t help thinking,
though, that I should be judging O’Conor’s
Beethoven on what he can do now, not
on what he did between 22 and 14 years
ago. It’s good news that, after a recording
career which seemed to have slackened
off, he set down two of the concertos
in January of this year and will be
completing the cycle during 2008. If
the results suggest a deepening of approach,
then I feel he should be allowed to
return to at least some of the sonatas.
Appendix 1: The
"Hatto" Beethoven cycle(s).
Some time ago I announced
on the MusicWeb bulletin board that
I had confirmed the identity of opp.
2, 7 and 106. I also queried whether
the entire cycle had been issued, since
MusicWeb had received only these two
volumes. Though no one replied publicly
I had a few private responses and I
am aware of the existence of several
Regarding the identification
process, in a posting on the Pianophiles
discussion group Farhan Malik announced
that he was working through them and,
with 10 to go, it looked as if the entire
cycle was taken from O’Conor. In a later
posting he announced that he had now
found a few which were not O’Conor.
Rather confusingly, a friend of his
who was also checking the identifications,
had also found a few not by O’Conor,
but they seemed to be different ones!
At the moment this is awaiting clarification
and there is the possibility that there
may be some variant versions.
Initially the cycle
was issued in 2003. Revised versions
began almost immediately and copies
dated 2004-5 are known to exist of all
but Volumes 2, 3 and 7. As well as the
different timings, the new versions
had revised trays claiming additional
recording sessions and sometimes an
extra engineer or two. A correspondent
has sent me timings of all the single
movements – see Appendix 2. In the 2003
set these are sufficiently close to
O’Conor – allowing for creative editing
of silences – in most sonatas. If we
make the assumption that time manipulation
began to be applied only from 2004,
the matches most in need of checking
in the 2003 series are op. 27/2, op.
53 (perhaps), op. 57, op. 79, op. 81a
(perhaps), op. 90 and op. 101. In the
2004-5 cycle time manipulation was selectively
applied – I can personally confirm that
op. 7 and the first two movements of
op. 106 were left untouched – and the
sound was considerably beefed up. A
general pattern seems to be that of
fiddling around especially with the
first track and perhaps also the last.
The differences in the case of opp.
49 and 53 are such as to suggest the
performances might have been replaced
with others, while oddly enough in the
case of op. 57 the timings suggest a
reinstatement of O’Conor.
At the time the scandal
broke a boxed package was being prepared
as part of the deal with William Sorin’s
IPO for distribution in America. We
can only guess at the further disguises
that may have been awaiting us.
For the moment we can
also only guess at the content of an
earlier Hatto cycle on cassette.
This was still listed on the Concert
Artist website around 2004 and a release
on minidisk was planned back in 1998.
It was part of a project to issue all
Chopin, much Liszt and an assortment
of other material in the minidisk format
but the idea seems to have died. A whole
mass of cassettes by Hatto, Fiorentino
and others were released and carry dates
from 1983 to 1994. The repertoire is
the same as with the later CDs and "René
Kohler" was named as the conductor
even then, occasionally alternating
with one "Wolfgang Böhm",
who sounds like a distant cousin of
Karl Sawallisch. At present it is not
known whether the recordings are the
same as those on the fake CDs. However,
the Beethoven cycle contains a number
of extra pieces which certainly do not
derive from O’Conor. Some of them are
extremely unusual and infrequently recorded.
Until a copy of this cycle is located
we can only make guesses. If it dates
from the 1980s it may even be what it
claims to be. Here are the details:
Volume 1: op. 2/1-2, Sonata in C minor
(completed by Ries), Sonata in A major,
Volume 2: op. 2/3, op. 7
Volume 3: op. 10, Rondo op. 51/1
Volume 4: op. 13, op. 14, Fantasia in
G minor op. 77
Volume 5: op. 27, op. 28, Andante favori
Volume 6: op. 22, op. 26, Rondo op.
Volume 7: op. 31/1-2
Volume 8: op. 31/3, op. 49, op. 53
Volume 9: op. 54, op. 57, op. 78, op.
Volume 10: op. 81a, op. 90, op. 101
Volume 11: op. 106, op. 109
Volume 12: op. 110, op. 111, Rondo op.
The numbers were BE4-TC-8001 through
Appendix 2: Timings
of O’Conor, "Hatto" 2003,
The O’Conor timings
are from my computer. The printed timings
are so wildly inaccurate as to suggest
they may have provided the Hattifiers
with a role model.
| Op. 2/1
| Op. 2/2
| Op. 2/3
| Op. 7
| Op. 10/1
| Op. 10/2
| Op. 10/3
| Op. 13
| Op. 14/1
| Op. 14/2
| Op. 22
| Op. 26**
| Op. 27/1**
| Op. 27/2**
| Op. 28**
| Op. 31/1
| Op. 31/2
| Op. 31/3
| Op. 49/1***
| Op. 49/2***
| Op. 53***
| Op. 54
| Op. 57***
| Op. 78
| Op. 79
| Op. 81a
| Op. 90
| Op. 101
| Op. 106
| Op. 109
| Op. 110
| Op. 111
* These are
the "Hatto" timings I’ve
personally checked. As stated above,
in opp. 2 and 7 and in movements
I and II of op. 106, the timings
of the actual music are identical
with O’Conor, the difference being
accounted for by creative adjustment
of the silences at the beginning
and end of the tracks.
** My informant
did not provide timings for the
newer version of Volume 4, simply
stating that they were the same
as before "save for the odd
second on a couple of tracks".
*** A third
version of Volume 6 apparently hit
the dust. I understand the timings
are virtually identical with the
second version but the booklet and
tray are considerably revised.
Appendix 3: E-mail
from W.H. Barrington-Coupe dated 4th
Dear Mr. Howell,
I am so sorry that
I didn't get back to you but personal
problems intervened. Firstly, Joyce
has been through a bad patch but is
recovering and I had some heart problems
and these have responded to different
pills! All signs of ageing I'm afraid.
A box of cd's has
obviously gone astray and I will get
a further parcel packed and sent off.
I have read your
review of the Hammerklavier and I was
deeply pleased that your observations
accorded exactly to the philosophy behind
the performance. I think Joyce was particularly
pleased that you found a truth
in the slow movement and felt convinced.
She has suffered badly from critic's
(and some pianist's have written to
her quite rudely) over the faster tempo
and have dismissed the clarity and momentum
in the other movements without a thought.
Her approach to the Schubert B flat
Sonata has also been shunned simply
because she sees it differently - quite
differently to most other pianists.
So it was interesting that you should
bring Schubert into your equation when
discussing Op.106. This comes I
think from this extraordinary idea that
to be English is to be placed automatically
in a second division when making
comparisons to German, Russian
and Hungarian schools. Neville
Cardus wrote two reviews of her playing
of German classics and sent her a bouquet
(floral) after hearing her Schubert
B flat Sonata. He was thrilled that
a young English girl could get up and
throw down the gauntlet to "Herr Backhaus
and Herr Kempf " - other critics
over the years have resented it.
The problem with
critics is that only a few really do
listen to what they hear. Few sit down
with a score because they have
been brought up with Schnabel and have
his performances in their ears. Many
do not even consider that an English
pianist is fit to dust the shoes of
say -Alfred Brendel or Andras Schiff
- both admirable pianists in many ways but
neither, in my opinion, dispense the
oracle. I don't seek to flatter when
I say that YOU DO listen and you appear
to have no prejudice between your ears
to prevent a sound opinion. Obviously,
everyone is different -all criticism
is opinion EXCEPT
when it comes to comment on the actual
technique. Here the critic clearly knows
what he knows or he knows nothing.
I hope that I have
not overstepped the line in
saying these things.
Anyway, I am attending
to dispatching the missing items and
I will email you when they are actually
sent off. I will send the Brahms First
Concerto as you ask and the other things.
I think that you might be interested
in an issue of the Verdi-Liszt transcriptions
(as you are virtually a Milanese) being
steeped in the Scala tradition. This
is a small series of the Operatic transcriptions
and I am sure that you will be interested
just for enjoyment even if you
don't find time to comment on them [I
never got any of this].
Finally, entre nous,
the Mozart Sonata series is being
released in America and Joyce has taken
the opportunity to "move things along
a little" in some of the tempi - I will
send you copies when they are available.
So, she does listen to good criticism
- even at her age!
I will write about
recorded sound in another letter.
With very best wishes,
Concert Artist Recordings