This recording was issued in 2006 as
the work of Joyce Hatto on Concert Artist/Fidelio
Tor Espen Aspaas is
Norwegian and made his début
in Oslo in 1997. Since then he has played
in Hong Kong, Monaco, Berlin, Madrid
and Brussels and has appeared with conductors
such as Brüggen and Sinaisky. He
also works as a chamber musician and
has collaborated with Arve Tellefsen
and Håken Hagegård among
others. He became associate professor
at the Norwegian Academy of Music in
2001 and is Artistic Director of the
"Vinterfestspill i Bergstaden"
chamber music festival in Røros,
Norway. He is also enough of a musicologist
and general enthusiast to have written
his own excellent and detailed notes
for this issue, so it must have been
disheartening indeed to find his labour
of love so cynically hijacked.
As with other "Hatto
originals" I shall reproduce my
earlier review, modifying only names
and pronouns and any references to other
supposed "Hatto" recordings.
I would not expect anyone to believe
me if I said it all sounds different
now. I shall precede this with a discussion
of the Hattification procedures that
have been applied and will try to assess
whether they might change our perception
of what we hear. In this case Hattification
has not been particularly drastic and
seems aimed at deceiving the computer
more than the ear.
1. On the Hattified
disc, the two short works are played
at the end instead of in the order listed
above. An additional piece, Manuel de
Falla’s tribute to Dukas, has been added.
This apparently derives from a performance
by Miguel Baselga on Bis, and I will
comment on it later if I have the opportunity.
2. Hattification of
the sound picture has increased the
bass response – now big and booming
– and slightly deadened the treble.
The piano appears to spread powerfully
across the loudspeakers, leaving very
little impression of an actual acoustic
around it, though there is certainly
reverberation in the rests. It is quite
impressive, but I prefer the original.
A shade brighter and less bass-heavy,
it somehow seems cleaner. This is also
because the sound-picture is more defined.
I get more of an impression of the piano
standing about half-way between my loudspeakers
with a bit of acoustic around it. I
also get the idea the dynamic range
has been slightly reduced by the Hattifiers;
the pianissimos seem a little softer
on the original.
3. Unlike the Chopin
Mazurkas, on which I have recently commented,
Hattification has produced a spot of
time shrinking/stretching, though not
by any great amount. Frankly, I was
expecting more. The Sonata timings are
11:17, 10:31, 09:30, 12:44 for Aspaas,
11:10, 10:36, 09:29, 12:43 for "Hatto".
However, in the last movement the actual
music finishes at 12:41 in the Aspaas,
12:35 in "Hatto", so the latter
has been slightly more Hattified than
it might appear. Nevertheless, something
a little more subtle seems to be going
on. I don’t have a score of this piece
which makes it difficult to go into
detail, but it occurred to me to check
the position of a musical "landmark"
around the mid-point of the third movement.
Interestingly, although the overall
timing was virtually identical – a difference
of one second usually relates to a spot
more or less of silence at the beginning
and end, not a change of speed – at
5:51 the "Hatto" was three
seconds ahead of the original. Having
noted this, I chose two landmarks in
the finale, the point where the pianist
sinks into a swinging Franckian second
subject, and the same point in the recapitulation.
At the first of these points "Hatto",
at 03:58, was lagging two seconds behind
Aspaas, at 03:56. But by the second
point, "Hatto", at 09:20,
had got ahead – Aspaas was now panting
behind at 09:22. By the end of the movement
"Hatto" has leapt ahead by
six seconds! Obviously, one would need
a score with which to mark out "landmarks"
every minute or so to see exactly what
has been done, but it seems clear that
their has been a bit of internal stretching
and shrinking, aimed more at confounding
anyone who tried to set the wave-patterns
side by side in his computer than the
actual ear. To turn Aspaas’s performances
into ones with an apparently different
character, something much drastic would
For in truth, what
gives a performance its character is
the phrasing, the colouring, the weighting
of certain chords, the rubato and so
on. I am quite sure that any two performances
by Aspaas himself will produce a greater
percentage variation of all these elements,
including timings, than that introduced
here by the Hattifiers.
In the Variations,
timings for the most part differ by
a second or so, plus or minus. This
same difference would be produced anyway
in the process of eliminating the original
track marks and then putting them back
in again slightly differently. For example,
in the "Hatto", variations
7 and 9 both begin with a split second
or reverberation from the previous tracks,
whereas in the original they start cleanly.
So for the most part I doubt if any
stretching or shrinking has been applied.
A reduction from 0:46 to 0:42 (variation
1) is considerable in such a tiny piece
and I did seem to hear that the "Hatto"
was a bit faster, but probably only
because I had been alerted. On the other
hand, variation 11 has been stretched
by the Hattifiers from 02:26 to 02:35
and I think the original is just that
little bit more urgent, if less sombre.
A reduction of the Interlude (Aspaas
02:38, "Hatto" 02:30) by eight
seconds didn’t have any audible result
Of the shorter pieces,
"La plainte" appears to have
been shortened considerably but it is
the last piece on the Aspaas disc and
the track ends with 22 seconds’ silence,
so actually I don’t think the tempo
has been changed. While the Prélude
is six seconds shorter in the "Hatto".
Here, then, is the
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 which Tor Espen Aspaas
brings to it. I do not wish to imply
by this a lack of commitment, indeed
his belief in the cause is obvious in
every bar. Yet it is his lofty overview
which remains in the mind. It is an
extraordinary performance of an extraordinary
The calm opening
of the next movement, for all Aspaas’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
The scherzo is brilliant,
toccata-like piece, with a highly contrasted
trio. The notes cascade from Aspaas’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. Aspaas
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 "Hatto" 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 it 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 the performance really
lasted "for almost an hour" as EMG claimed
– and so about 15 minutes longer than
Aspaas’s – this might explain their
Of course, the coupling
may be the deciding factor for you.
From Hamelin you get a very rare work
by Decaux. Aspaas 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.
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 Tor
Espen Aspaas 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 played by Aspaas with classic
poise and some beautifully voiced textures.
I concluded by saying
that 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
Instead, it was yet
another con from Hatto, Barrington-Coupe
and Concert Artist. So isn’t it treasure
any more? Well, as many have pointed
out, it does make a difference if you
think the music is being played against
all odds by an elderly lady battling
with terminal cancer. It makes your
jaw drop. Whereas, if a young and presumably
healthy artist undertakes to record
repertoire which is rare, yet nonetheless
has a small and often distinguished
competitive discography behind it, we
expect that he will take the trouble
to learn the notes thoroughly and work
out a convincing interpretation. Our
jaw does not drop when he proves to
have done so. Our treasures are where
our hearts are, and I suppose Aspaas
has not yet captured our hearts as Hatto
so fraudulently did. Perhaps he will
if he makes more discs of this quality.
I can certainly repeat my urgent recommendation
of it to all lovers of French piano
music. Will he now profit from this
unexpected but deserved limelight to
explore, for example, Maurice Emmanuel?
I have remarked that
Aspaas writes his own excellent notes.
Concert Artist also had excellent notes
by MusicWeb reviewer William Hedley
and a racy account, purporting to be
by Hatto herself, of how she came to
play the Dukas Sonata for an undisclosed
and unprepared Staffordshire music club.
Hands up anybody in Staffordshire who
heard her play it there! She also tells
of a scheduled performance in Paris
which never took place. You bet it didn’t!