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[The double CD pack reviewed here seems to have been issued only in Japan. The single CDs with the numbers given may still be available in Europe – see Amazon]
"Il Penseroso", "Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa" and "Après une lecture du Dante" were issued in as the work of Joyce Hatto on Concert Artist/Fidelio CACD 9150-2. "La Notte" was also issued as the work of Hatto on CACD 9067-2.


Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
CD 1 [67:36]
Variationen über das Motiv von Bach "Weinen, Klagen", S.180 [16:14]
Liebesträume (Notturni 1-3), S.541 [16:22]
Valse oubliée no.1, S.215 [03:15]
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses S.173: 3 Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude [19:27], 7. Funerailles [11:42]
CD 2 [71 :32]
Années de pèlerinage: 2e Année: L’Italie, S.161 [57 :53]
La notte, S.669 [13 :03]
Michel Dalberto (piano)
rec. 1990 (CD 1), 1992 (Années), 1993 (La notte)
DENON CO 77289/CO 75500

Michel Dalberto was born in 1955. A pupil of Vlado Perlemuter and a protégé of Nikita Magaloff, he won the Clara Haskil Competition in 1975 and the Leeds in 1978. He was particularly active in the recording studios in the early 1990s for Denon, when he set down a complete Schubert cycle on 14 CDs, now reissued by Brilliant, and a fair amount of Liszt. These were mostly well received at the time. The lily-fingered Hatto couple were already helping themselves to his work by 1994, when his Schubert Hüttenbrenner Variations appeared on a "Hatto" cassette. His career still continues, though possibly these early premises held out hope of higher things. However, he is still relatively young so the last chapter has yet to be written.

Certainly, this pair of Liszt discs is a very fine achievement. Ranging as it does from the very well-known – the "Liebestraum" – to a rare late work – "La notte" – with substantial fare along the way, it would make a good starting point for anyone setting out to investigate this composer.

I compared the Bach Variations with the version by Karl-Andreas Kolly which was chosen by the Hattos for "their" recording – see review. Dalberto is a little more peremptory, ready to go to extremes, to charge off with the virtuoso bit between his teeth, or to dream poetically. But he never does this to the point of losing his grip on the structure. Kolly is a very musical pianist and I like the way he lets the piece build up gradually and inexorably. Both have the technique to bring off their chosen interpretation. Dalberto uses a wider tonal range and this creates some problems for the engineers. As recorded, his tone sounds forced at the upper end of the dynamic range. This is my one problem with the first disc. By the time he set down the second, the engineers – or Dalberto himself – had got the big fortissimos under control and this CD sounds fine.

Dalberto is poetic without maundering in the Liebesträume and takes an elegant, unhurried view of the Valse Oubliée. Recently I heard Funérailles played by a pianist – Daniel Pollack – who evidently believes it should be played loudly from beginning to end. Dalberto’s adherence to the written dynamics both here and in Bénédiction is scrupulous. There is a lot of fine musicianship on display.

In the last resort, I suppose this is excellent rather than actually great. Comparing Dalberto’s Funérailles with Pollack’s is one thing. Comparing it with Richter’s is another. If Dalberto’s career has levelled off somewhat, then I suppose excellence is not a unique quality. There has only been one Horowitz, one Rubinstein, but each generation has its Dalberto, or even several of them.

All the same, one must be grateful to hear Liszt played so musically, beautifully and lovingly. Two years can be a long time in a young musician’s development and by the time he set down the first Italian book of the Années de pèlerinage Dalberto was perhaps ready to investigate the music more deeply. The three Petrarch Sonnets are very measured and meditative. Not excessively so to my ears, though if you have Horowitz’s swashbuckling performance of Sonnet 104 firmly lodged in your head you may not agree. They were evidently too slow for the Hatto couple, who replaced them with far more passionate, even brusque, performances, still unidentified. The timings there are 05:04, 05:57 and 06:29. Dalberto’s are 07:56, 06:54 and 07:57. Those are big differences.

My one reservation concerns the Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa, where I found his treatment a little flippant. It’s hardly the best Liszt but the substitution of some staccatos when legato is written – an unusual act of infidelity for Dalberto – does not help. On the other hand, the Dante Sonata is magnificent. Dalberto knows how to unleash torrents of sound, but does not neglect the more poetic, lyrical side of the piece, while keeping a firm grip on the structure. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing it again. If I was not quite so bowled over as when I thought it was Hatto playing – see below – this is because I no longer believed I was listening to a sick old lady displaying incredible reserves of energy. I was listening to a healthy young man making the most of his fine technique. There’s no denying it makes a difference.

The concluding item is extremely interesting. La notte was a late orchestral work – transcribed by Liszt for piano – based on the second piece from the Italian Années, Il penseroso. Not having a score, I found it fascinating to hear it with the score of Il penseroso open. The first part is much as before, slightly expanded or varied here and there. Then follows a wholly new middle section. When the "Penseroso" section returns, it is totally reworked, only a very few bars actually remaining unchanged. Dalberto plays it with power and dedication. This performance was also stolen by the Hattos, but I didn’t hear that disc.

Hattification was fairly straightforward. Time-stretching had not been discovered by the couple in 2002 so the only disguise is a softening of the sound picture. For some reason this was done pretty considerably in Il penseroso and the Canzonetta, hardly at all in the Dante Sonata. The pianist in Sposalizio, by the way, gives a very mellow, gentle performance in a reverberant acoustic – about a quarter of a minute longer than Dalberto. When the identifications have been made, I shall be very surprised if this is the same pianist as in the Petrarch Sonnets. Since the "Hatto" disc concludes with a performance of "Venezia e Napoli" identified as by Janina Fialkowska – see review – this means the entire CD was a composite job by four pianists.

Here is my original review. I award myself a Brownie point for noting that something was different in the Dante Sonata, though I attributed this to a different mood, or a different acoustic, rather than to a different pianist. I can allow myself another Brownie point for noting that there was something different about "Venezia e Napoli", too. But I’ll have to take them off again for not noticing the differences that should already have been apparent during the first six pieces. I have omitted some of my comments on "Venezia e Napoli" – I will quote these when I review the Fialkowska record.

With a warm, slightly distant recording in the Concert Artist manner, the first part of this disc magically evokes sun-drenched Italy as the romantics knew and loved it. This is the Italy of Corot, Turner and the Grand Tour, with Liszt the Byronic traveller finding history at every turn – Raphael ("Sposalizio"), Michelangelo ("Il Penseroso", a doom-laden piece if ever there was one), Salvator Rosa (a more jaunty episode) and Petrarch (the three sonnets). These famous pieces are unfolded by Joyce Hatto with great musicality and with a humble awareness of their beauty.

A word of explanation is required over the word "musicality", for to describe a performance as "musical" is often tantamount to damning it with faint praise, suggestive of wholesome qualities that fall short of "charisma", "personality", "interpretation" and the various other accoutrements with which it is sometimes considered necessary to smother Liszt’s music. I do not intend the word in that sense. When the matter to be played is music (a fact which it was still fashionable to deny back in the days when Joyce Hatto first studied all these works), it should be the highest praise to describe the performance of it as "musical". I feel that Hatto would agree, so beautifully does she realise every detail of the score, yet with an awareness of the meaning behind it.

I could stop here, but I have actually dealt with only the first six tracks; the Second of Liszt’s "Années de Pèlerinage" concludes with the massive "Dante Sonata". Here a number of things change. Liszt himself changes, of course, bringing out, alongside many passages of wonderful poetry, the darker, more demonic side of his personality. But also the recording perspectives change; instead of the usual rather distanced microphone placing we are used to from this source, the recording is close up and brilliant. We are not told which pieces were recorded on what occasion, but this one was clearly made separately. It is certainly startling, coming after the mellow sound of the Petrarch Sonnets and some might find it too much so, rather like some of RCA’s recordings of Rubinstein. I must say I do not find it excessive (I would at all events liken it to the best of RCA’s recordings of Rubinstein); rather, I find it extremely exciting.

As a result of homing in so closely on Hatto’s playing we get a new perspective of her pianism, but I think there is more to it than that, for she is in truly awesome form. While the expected poetry is not lacking in the gentler moments, she throws all caution to the winds in the demonic passages, producing torrents of thrilling sound (though without a trace of hardening in the tone). This is a Liszt performance to set alongside the greatest I know.

Back to more distant sound for the "Venezia e Napoli" supplement, yet here, too, something is different. It stems, I think, from Hatto’s realisation that, while the "Années de pèlerinage" volume shows Liszt at his most deeply musical, this supplement – based on popular Italian themes of the day – is more sheerly music for entertainment. Whereas in the greater pieces, the less we are made aware of the pianism at stake the better, here we should be made to gasp with astonishment at the pianistic feats. So Hatto slightly adjusts her aim, and here too, she does not disappoint. There is a certain sense of irony here which would have been out of place in the preceding pieces.

I suppose that I must by now have reviewed more records by Joyce Hatto than by any other single pianist. Though in a general sort of way I suppose I have a picture of her by now as a musicianly, scrupulous, technically prepared and above all trustworthy guide to a wide range of repertoire, and a fair percentage of new issues go towards reinforcing this image, I must say there have also been occasions when she has quite taken my breath away, entirely confounding my expectations; this "Dante Sonata" was one of them.

The anonymous notes accompanying this issue are extremely well-written and helpful so here is obviously a major addition to the Liszt discography.

Christopher Howell


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