Friday, February 16, 2007

Classical Music Fraud? The Joyce Hatto Scandal

Masterpieces Or Fakes? The Joyce Hatto Scandal February 15 2007

It was already one of the strangest stories the classical music world had witnessed. But the discovery of the late English pianist Joyce Hatto as the greatest instrumentalist almost nobody had heard of, appears to have taken a bizarre, even potentially sinister turn.

It was around a year ago that Gramophone's critics began to champion this little-known lady, whose discs � miraculous performances, released by her husband William Barrington-Coupe on the tiny label Concert Artist � were notoriously difficult to get hold of. Such was the brilliance of this pianist across Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Dukas and more in a dizzying range � that it was worth making the effort to seek out Concert Artist to get these discs, and they became much sought-after. By the time she died in June 2006, Joyce Hatto was not only a sudden widespread success, she was a cause c�l�bre. To love Hatto recordings was to be in the know, a true piano aficionado who didn't need the hype of a major label's marketing spend to recognise a good, a great, thing when they heard it.

But at the same time as the cult of Hatto was burgeoning, there were persistent rumours on the internet as to the true origins of the recordings. How, wondered the doubters, could one woman � especially one who had battled cancer for many years � have mastered a range of repertoire and recorded a catalogue that arguably makes her more prolific than even the Richters and the Ashkenazys.

However, Gramophone critic Jeremy Nicholas published a letter in the magazine asking anyone who had any evidence of any wrong-doing to come forth. Nobody did, and the matter rested. Until now.

Several days ago, another Gramophone critic decided to listen to a Hatto Liszt CD, of the 12 Transcendental Studies. He put the disc into his computer to listen, and something awfully strange happened. His computer's player identified the disc as, yes, the Liszts, but not a Hatto recording. Instead, his display suggested that the disc was one on BIS Records, by the pianist L�szlo Simon. Mystified, our critic checked his Hatto disc against the actual Simon recording, and to his amazement they sounded exactly the same.

In then went a recording of Hatto playing two Rachmaninov Piano Concertos and, sure enough, his computer's CD player listed it as another � by Yefim Bronfman, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on Sony. Again, the critic compared, and again he could hear no difference.

Gramophone then sent the Hatto and the Simon Liszt recordings to an audio expert, Pristine Audio's Andrew Rose, who scientifically checked the soundwaves of each recording. They matched. "Without a shadow of a doubt," reported Rose, "10 of the tracks on the Liszt disc are identical to those on the Simon." Of the remaining two, he now feels that he has identified a further one � which he identified as being, again �without a shadow of a doubt� from a CD entitled Nojima Plays Liszt, a 1993 release from Reference Recordings. Furthermore, his partner � who is based elsewhere with his own equipment � agrees.

More astonishing revelations were to come. The pair then checked a track from a Hatto disc of music by Godowsky, and found that it sounded strange, as if the sound had been tampered with. After running checks, they found that the music had indeed been manipulated � the time had been stretched by an "audacious" 15.112% (such an extreme stretch accounted for the odd sound) to alter the tone, but that if the stretch was reversed it became clear that the track was identical to that played by the pianist Carlo Grante on a CD issued by Altarus.

Rose even created special pages on his website, showing the soundwaves for both the Godowsky and the Liszt side by side with those they match. The listener can compare the tracks simultaneously. Rose later checked the Rachmaninov Concertos recording and, sure enough, it matched up with the Bronfman recording.

It would take many weeks of intensive work to examine all of the Hatto recordings, but it seems clear that at least some of these great performances are identical to other performances available from other recording companies. Contacted for his comments, Barrington-Coupe � who acknowledged that he produced well-nigh all of his wife's recordings � was at a loss to explain the similarity.

Are the Hatto's fakes? If so, how many? This, it must be suspected, is a story that won't go away until the full truth is known.

* Don't miss the April issue of Gramophone for a longer version of this story

Visit Pristine Audio's Hatto web page:

James Inverne

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Here is her obituary from the Boston Globe:

Joyce Hatto, at 77; pianist was prolific recording artist

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | July 4, 2006

There are performers who share so generously of themselves that we come to feel they are personal friends. We may never have met them, but we feel we know them more completely than the people we encounter every day.

A growing international audience feels that way about the British pianist Joyce Hatto, who died June 29 at her home in Royston, Hertfordshire, after a long struggle with cancer. She was 77.

Miss Hatto's career was one of the most unusual in musical history. She stopped playing in concert in the 1970s when a critic ridiculed her appearance after she had undergone radiation therapy. She said she had no wish to make a public spectacle of herself. Also, as her husband and record producer William Barrington-Coupe explained to the Globe last summer, ``She didn't want to play in public because she never knew when the pain would start, or stop, and she refused to take any drugs, not even an aspirin."

In the 1990s, Miss Hatto began an ambitious recording program in a studio owned by her husband. She recorded most of the major piano repertory from Bach through Messiaen, including the complete piano music of Chopin, Brahms, Ravel, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff, as well as vast amounts of Schubert, Schumann,and Liszt, and all the piano sonatas of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Prokofiev.

More than 100 CDs have been released so far on the Concert Artist label, with about 50 more awaiting production. It is the largest recorded legacy left by any pianist, with the possible exception of Sviatoslav Richter .

More important than the size of Miss Hatto's discography is its quality. Her playing throughout is on superb technical level that is matched by profound expressivity and a deep humanity.

Miss Hatto was obviously an indefatigable worker, and she was rarely satisfied with her work. Every day of her adult life she practiced the exercises in Clementi's ``Gradus ad Parnassum." One of her recordings was of the famous studies on the etudes of Chopin by Leopold Godowsky , probably the most difficult keyboard challenge ever composed. She had studied and practiced them most of her life, working from a copy that she had made by hand from a rare copy owned by her teacher.

Because her husband owned the studio, she enjoyed the luxurious opportunities of a rock star; she could go into the studio whenever she wanted to, and often rerecorded works when she was dissatisfied with her performances, even if they had already been released. Her final trip to the studio was just three weeks ago, when from her wheelchair, she rerecorded a pair of Chopin waltzes, a work by Liszt, and Beethoven's ``Farewell" sonata. According to her husband, she didn't think her earlier performance of the Beethoven was much good and feared that it wouldn't be long before other people started saying so, too.

In the last year of her life, Miss Hatto's recordings began to attract the attention they had deserved all along. In England, nobody had paid much attention, but articles in Germany and in the Globe last year preceded a series of glowing articles in the British musical press.

The American pianist Ivan Davis became a fan and has bought more than 40 of her recordings. Last week he said from Florida, ``I will go out on a limb and say that Joyce Hatto seems to me as completely satisfying a pianist as anyone in the history of recorded music. I dare anyone to listen to any of the 80 Scarlatti sonatas she left us and not think this is the most perfect playing possible."

Miss Hatto was born in London on Sept. 5, 1928. Most of her studies were private rather than in the main British music institutions. Her primary teachers were Serge Krish , who had been a student of the Italian master Ferruccio Busoni , and Ilona Kabos . She also made a point of playing for leading pianists of earlier generations and seeking their advice, including Alfred Cortot , Clara Haskil , Sviatoslav Richter and others.

She married Barrington-Coupe in 1956, not long before being diagnosed with the cancer she fought for the rest of her life. Last week, he said, ``In the 55 years I knew her, we never got bored, or tired of each other." Miss Hatto underwent five major surgeries and for the last 10 years of her life was hospitalized for several days every seven weeks -- 68 scheduled trips to the hospital in all, her husband said. Miss Hatto discounted her personal problems, which she considered minor compared with the problems of Mozart, Schubert, and Chopin. She never wrote a will, saying, ``I have an old country superstition that if you make your will, you are ready for death, and I'm bloody well not."

Barrington-Coupe, like many listeners, believed that her prolonged illness contributed to the quality of her music: ``The illness has added a third dimension to her playing. She gets at what is inside the music and what lies behind it."

In an interview with the Globe last summer, Miss Hatto sounded lively and youthful although she admitted, ``I buy all the wrinkle creams." She also said,``What it really takes to be a pianist is courage, character, and the capacity to work. Shakespeare understood the entire human condition and so did the great composers. As interpreters, we are not important; we are just vehicles.When somebody says to you, `What a marvelous piece,' that's the real thing, the true compliment. Our job is to communicate the spiritual content of life as it is presented in the music. Nothing belongs to us; all you can do is pass it along."

Miss Hatto leaves her husband.

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