Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"The Greatest Living Pianist That Almost No One Has Ever Heard Of." : The Hatto Affair

I remember reading the obituary online last summer at www.Playbillarts.com. A British pianist, Joyce Hatto had passed at age 77 after a long bout with cancer that had curtailed, actually more accurately destroyed, her career.

Hatto studied piano with Serge Krish, a former student of Busoni and Alfred Cortot, plus studied composition with Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger. Impeccable credentials. Hatto played frequently in Europe, with somewhat unusual and difficult programs. Hatto quit the concert world in1976 due to the cancer. It is said that she was once told it is ''impolite to look ill."

She continued to record however, amazing repertoire for a sick lady going into her 50s and 60s. Liszt, Messiaen, Rachmaninoff concertos, complete cycles of Beethoven, Mozart and Prokofiev sonatas, Tchaikovsky and Brahms concertos and the complete works of Chopin, 119 recordings in all. An article in 2005 gave her the title quoted in the title of this entry.

The recordings were praised to the skies by many critics. The recordings were released on the tiny Concert Artist label in the UK. Not available here, I checked them out and declined to purchase as they were quite expensive for a curiosity.

Turns out, I am glad I did not make the purchase.

It seems many, if not all of them are frauds. Undone by new technology, the ruse was exposed.

Anyone with iTunes or similar software can attest to the fact that when you put a commercially recorded CD in the system, encoded information will appear on your screen identifying the tracks and artists. Makes it easy to save and categorize. A critic for Gramophone magazine did just that, put the recording of the Liszt "Transcendental Etudes" in his iTunes software and it came up as a recording by one Laszlo Simon, who recorded the same music for Swedish label BIS. Some research, both scientific and subjective, basically proved that fact. Other recordings were shown to be fakes as well, including the Rachmaninoff Concertos which were those of Bronfman.

Her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, initially expressed surprise and dismay at the news that the recordings were suspect. Concert Artist was a small company, and maybe some mistake was made. Barrington-Coupe succumbed to the same fate as many a petty criminal. Emboldened by getting away with one, he tried for two, then 30 then 119. When he finally confessed yesterday, he said he did it to "hide technical imperfections and gasps of pain" as Hatto struggled to record. He supposedly slipped in a few seconds of another performance to cover the imperfections. Getting away with that, he went on to foisting off whole performances. People began to suspect another fraud; no one had ever heard of the conductor and the orchestra used to record the concert works. No one seems to have ever participated in a recording. It unraveled quickly.

It was all too good to be true. The performances were almost all stunningly well done. The repertoire demanding of a 20 year old let alone a 70 year old racked with cancer. Barrington-Coupe obviously loved his wife and admired her work. He did it to make her known, to establish her reputation. He basically ruined it in his greed.

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