Tuesday, February 27, 2007

TV Review - Grayrigg (all channels)

One of this writer's axioms is Paul Theroux's 'I never saw a train go by without wishing I was on it'. I stopped copping loco numbers when I was 12, but my love of railways is sufficiently undiminished to start shouting at the telly whenever it deals with trains. The Grayrigg accident (all channels) repointed fundamental media ignorance of said mode of transport, but now, in the case of what now passes for television news, it seems to excuse the filling dead air, using a lack of knowledge (or a wilful misuse of the facts) to meaninglessly extend a news item. As Exhibit A in a foundation course in Why TV News Is Getting Worse at the University of Please Yourself (formerly the Polytechnic of Please Yourself) Grayrigg would be hard to match.

To anyone with the slightest news sense on the Saturday morning after the crash, the story seemed plain enough - high-speed derailment of some telegenic value (carriage sticking up in air, Richard Branson). Yet on BBC and ITV and, naturally, the 24 channels, it took over five minutes of the absurd 'Going Live' pictures and waffle which so (rightly) animates Private Eye magazine before we got to the stones and mortar of the facts as known. After (one assumes) he was told not to use words of more than two syllables, the admirable and cerebral rail expert Christian Wolmar told the camera what should have been the strapline of the story - that modern carriage construction meant that a potential major accident had fortunately been reduced to a minor tragedy. Yet all weekend it went on - same pictures, same lack of information, Wolmar's level-headed, concise assessment lost in the ether. After all, 'minor tragedy' would simply not do.

It was left, as usual, for Channel 4 news to restore some kind of sanity, Monday night's 7pm bulletin succinctly and crisply reporting the findings of the interim investigations into the crash. The story was condensed and edited beautifully, and the show moved on.

Elsewhere, TV news conducted itself shabbily and inched further on down the tabloid sewer. The death of an elderly lady in the tragedy was of course miserably newsworthy; how could it not be? But wait; in 2004, a gang of platelayers was run down by an out-of-control trolley on the same stretch of line. Four men were killed; it warranted one day's worth of top story coverage and that was it. Fare-paying passengers' lives are clearly worth more than those of hairy-arsed gangers (although Branson's Virgin Trains prices probably distort fiduciary valuations). From the screen whispered a palpable sense of loss that more lives hadn't been snuffed out; one Fleet Street news editor wrung his hands in disbelief in 1999 when the death toll from the Paddington crash wasn't the 270 he'd splashed on the cover but, er, 35. Grayrigg saw the box-wallahs at it; they kept telling us that this could have been a 'major catastrophe'. But it wasn't, and we'd been told why. So what on earth was the point in going on about it? Ah - but that might have meant filling up bulletins with boring foreign stuff, or anything else the red-tops (which now dictate mainstream telly news) regard as alien and tiresome and complicated.

History was an irrelevance; no rail accident prior to Hatfield (2000) was referred to. This entirely ignores the technically comparable 1967derailment at Hither Green (South London, 49 deaths) and Ealing in 1973 (10 deaths), relevant because the carnage wrought there merely highlights the vast improvements in built-in safety features in modern rolling-stock. Thus overlooked was the remarkable incident at Croisilles in northern France in 2000 when a track fault derailed a Eurostar at 155mph (no deaths). But who cares? Only saddo train anoraks and maybe some poor bastards who were long ago bereaved or traumatised. Besides, this would only get in the way of going back to some drenched sap in the Cumbrian fells telling us precisely nothing - but won't such snap reportage get the bosses rubbing their hands! 'Whoo! We beat CNN by 3.8 seconds there! ITN only had 4.42.76 live on GMTV!'

On a more arcane note, the Grayrigg incident also suggests an interesting and picturesque road not taken by TV news and current affairs, and which it is perhaps wishful thinking to assume they would ever take. Railway history records two accidents, at Hawes Junction and Ais Gill in 1910 and 1913 respectively on the neighbouring Settle and Carlisle Line. Both were calamities which would swamp today's telly news. London-Scotland sleeper trains were involved in collisions after signalling cock-ups; on both occasions fire broke out with horrendous consequences. These were in locations far more remote than Grayrigg, were of a hugely greater material and human cost, and yet how were they cleared up, and services swiftly resumed when, conversely, 94 years on, Virgin tentatively predict that after this relatively small prang it will take the best part of a fortnight to resume ordinary working? The fact that London-Scotland trains have not been diverted via Settle and Carlisle due to a lack of motive power has not even been reported on TV news. Aren't these near-fantastical anomalies somehow relevant to the way in which our railways are run, a culture which might prove to be at least germane to any inquiry into Grayrigg? Are they not newsworthy? Of course they are. Time was, a programme like Dispatches, 20x20 or even Panorama might have picked these tidbits up and run with them, at least to make thought-provoking television. No longer.

This is not a plea for jeremiad TV, a why-have-we-come-to-this strand, but a form of documentary reportage that can also take up - for example - matters like Wolmar's point as to why some things have improved and why we should be grateful for them. But as TV news becomes ever more one-dimensional, Dacre- and Desmond-driven, it's probably as hopeless a case as expecting Mr Branson's next train to turn up on time.

Satire's Not Dead

In another age, your correspondent wrote satirical comedy for the BBC. Sort of. Guess what? I wasn't very good at it. TV once (you've seen it - dog and cliff), radio a couple of dozen times. Put it this way - even without peers like Newman, Baddiel and O'Farrell, I'd have been struggling. But it doesn't diminish valuable insight into the comedian's creative process, nor the shrill indignation of those terminally who can't grasp the game. Such echoes resounded in James Donaghy's mean-spirited whinge in the Guardian yesterday attacking Rory Bremner for hoax phone calls to cabinet ministers.
As the Guardian - its features at any rate - seems to be written for and by three-score or so thirty-somethings and their leftover student-mag obsessions in north London, often irrespective of their interest or talent (often both). In other words, this surreal half-pennorth (for which I assume Mr Donaghy trousered a fair bit more than the cost of one Fruit Salad chew) is about par for the course these days.
If I have an objection to Mr Bremner's stunt, it was simply its timing, a dopey little piece of pre-pub for a new series; fine, upstanding man of principle Peter Hain accused him of sowing 'cynicism' by denigrating cabinet ministers for laughs (the very idea!) when the more perceptive among us might firstly point to Bremner's rare taste-failure willingness to play the publicity game.
Donaghy's 'argument' was that the stunt had shown how devalued was the currency of political satire - indeed, that it scarcely mattered at all any more. I sense that the steady thump of rejection letters on a doormat might be behind this high-horsiness, but let that pass. Grapes taste pretty sour to me when I read 500 paid words of nothing like this on a national newspaper website, remember.
The article's targets were problematic. Sorry, but accusing Marks Thomas and Steel of humourless bludgeonry is elephant's-arse target practise worthy of castigating Stan Collymore for self-publicity. There was the obligatory - for the Guardian crew - uncritical hosanna of Chris Morris, conveniently ignoring the fact that the latter has done nothing of any note since half-way through Brass Eye (which often looks dangerously dated these days). Be honest, people - Morris is unproductively obsessed with willy-waving sensationalism of a clunking repetitiveness as irksome as the awful music that so polluted Blue Jam. Not big, not clever, not funny. One of the posters to Donaghy's article was straight out of Central Casting (mid-90s student union extras dept); 'I don't need any lessons in satire from someone [Bremner] who voted for Thatcher...' The refrain was depressingly British - most agree on Bremner's technical abilities as a mimic, but as Brits cannot bear ostentatious displays of facility or ability unless from unpleasant middle class children, this brilliance was, if anything, used as a tool of denigration.
Bremner's scripts are feeling clunkier as the years go by, it's true. That the Bird-Fortune Two Johns section is among the most boring things on TV is no longer opinion but verifiable fact. Sketches, I am afraid, simply do not last more than four minutes.
Moreover, The Office and, before that, the much better People Like Us have taken satire in bracing new directions. But that Bremner Bird and Fortune actually engages the mind to the degree it does means the fact that one can laugh at it at all is a minor miracle. My old comic nerve can feel the quality of some of the monologue jokes and they're delivered with real snap. If Bremner as political satirist is becoming shopworn, this is not because of his shortcomings as a humourist. It is thanks to the tedium of politics and the increasing stupidity of television full stop.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hattogate III - Christopher Howell


It may have been better to wait for a fuller picture to emerge of the extent of the Joyce Hatto fraud before giving my own views. However, those critics who lauded the discs bearing her name are likely to be dragged into the story, and that includes me, so I prefer to speak out sooner rather than later. Besides, I have some correspondence bearing Joyce Hatto’s signature which may contribute to the argument.

First of all, I may be naïve, but so far as I am aware a critic has no duty to verify the identity of the performers of the discs he is sent. He should, of course, draw attention to any anomalies, but on the face of it these discs seemed to be what they said they were. It would be embarrassing, certainly, if I turned out to have compared a Hatto fake with its parent disc and found the Hatto far superior. Casting my mind over the various comparisons I have made, I am confident this has not happened. Either that or the parent disc was doctored almighty well.

Ah, some say, but it should have been obvious that one elderly, sick woman could never have recorded all that music. And you should have heard that it wasn’t all the work of the same pianist. A hunch of this kind from a listener was actually one of the things that started the mutterings off.

Well, as far as quantity is concerned, people who point out that she made more records than prolific recorders such as Rubinstein, Richter, Ashkenazy, Barenboim et al. should bear in mind that these pianists all had/have extremely active concert careers, something which was denied to Hatto from 1976 onwards. We are told she did some teaching at one stage, but basically she had nothing to do with her time except prepare recordings. Looked at it that way, 150 recordings – the 100-odd already issued plus the 50 or so we are told await editing – over a period of about 15 years amount to less than one a month. Most artists can make a CD in 3 full-day sessions, so from that point of view it’s perfectly possible. Quite frankly, if I had nothing else to do with my time – which is far from the case – I could set down that much myself over the next fifteen years. I doubt, though, if I could cope with such a range of repertoire or the complexity of some of it – e.g. Chopin/Godowski – and maybe that’s where an alarm bell should have started ringing.

And there’s also the little matter that I don’t have inoperable cancer. Nonetheless, there have been remarkable cases where persons so stricken have fought bravely for many years, demonstrating a triumph of indomitable human will over adversity. The fact that Hatto lived until 2006 – if she did – suggests that some such brave battle did indeed take place, whatever she actually did with her borrowed time.

As regards the pianist’s apparent adaptability to a number of different styles, I myself studied with – among others – Ilonka Deckers-Küszler, a redoubtable Hungarian better remembered in the teaching world than by the general public. She was very insistent on finding the right sound and style for each composer, so Mozart sounded like Mozart, Beethoven like Beethoven, Debussy like Debussy and so on. Joyce Hatto studied with a number of teachers from a similar environment to Deckers-Küszler and seems to have expressed, in various interviews, a similar ideal. Always supposing the interviews were not fakes.

It may be noted that, wherever the performances come from, they seem to have been chosen from among those pianists who avoid imposing their own personalities on the music but who seek out the composer’s own style and sound. This made it rather easier to build up a conceivable "Hatto-style" out of a composite source. A "Hatto-style" plundered from Richter, Michelangeli and Glenn Gould would have been detected much sooner. I understand the original objection that these performances could not be the work of a single pianist was first made in a newsgroup by a certain Peter Lemken, who instanced her Mozart, Prokofief and Albeniz. I have commented on the Mozart but have not heard the Prokofief or the Albeniz. Indeed, I wonder if the material I was to be duped with was not chosen with a certain care. Knowing that I was at least something of a pianist, the authors of the hoax possibly avoided sending me performances that might jar too much with each other. Mostly, I was fed on the Mozart-Beethoven-Brahms axis, with a bit of Liszt, Debussy and a few others thrown in. Bearing in mind that, between reviewing one Hatto disc and another, I reviewed quite a lot of other ones, I don’t see why I should have suspected that the pianists were different ones.

I must say I never swallowed René Kohler, but I supposed that an orchestra and conductor out of contract were recording pseudonymously. This was commoner in the past when exclusive contracts tended to be longer and more rigid, but is not impossible today. I understand that some Gershwin appeared on Saga many years ago played by a presumably genuine Joyce Hatto and conducted by "René Kohler", so I daresay he began "life" as a genuine pseudonymous conductor and was resurrected when the pranksters thought the name and the suggestion of continuity with the past sounded good.

So, while new revelations are eagerly awaited, what can we say about the Hatto story?

I think we can discount the wilder suggestions that she never existed. There seem to be enough genuine memories around to prove that a pianist of that name was indeed active from the 1950s up till 1976, played regularly in provincial centres and sometimes more important ones, at home or abroad, made a few recordings and was compelled by ill-health to retire. The clinching fact would seem to be that her recording of Bax’s Symphonic Variations was conducted by Vernon Handley, who assuredly would not be party to any sort of deceit. It would be interesting, though, to hear his memories of that session – quite an important one in his own early career – and to know whether he worked with her on other occasions. Maybe some details of her pre-1976 career have got retrospectively enlarged – that Furtwängler testimonial needs to be checked – but substantially it is true, a fairly normal career like that of countless almost-forgotten artists.

The question is, what happened after 1976?

I have amused myself by imagining a number of possible scenarios. The truth may prove stranger than all of them.

Scenario 1. The story is as we have been told and the fakes turn out to be isolated coincidences. Looks increasingly unlikely.

Scenario 2. Sometime between 1976 and 1989, when these recording sessions are supposed to have started, Joyce Hatto died. Grief-deranged husband, acting normally on one level, increasingly lost touch with reality, set about creating a glorious close to his wife’s career and ended up by believing in it. Interesting stub for a psychodrama but the necessary collaborators might have tried to stop him.

Scenario 3. As above but for "grief-deranged" substitute "inveterate conman" and adjust the rest accordingly. Less interesting but more likely to work since any collaborators – perhaps none were needed – would have been willing accomplices.

Scenario 4. Hatto didn’t die until 2006 and really did set about making recordings in about 1989. Some genuine ones may yet emerge. Alas, as frailty increasingly set in, the results became less and less marketable. Despite his optimistic assurances to her that "it’ll sound all right when it’s edited", her husband shook his head in despair as the garage filled up with unusable tapes and looked for other solutions. By hunting around astutely for source-performances that shared a certain interpretative ground with the performances Hatto was trying to give and by playing them to her several years after the sessions ("all this editing take a lot of time"), he hoodwinked her into thinking they really were her own performances nicely tidied up. And also lent a certain spurious continuity to the pianist he was creating since he tended to go for the same type of interpretation. I’d like to believe this one, but the trouble is the concerto discs. Just suppose for a moment that some sort of a pick-up band had squeezed into a church hall somewhere in rural Hertfordshire to accompany Hatto in these concertos, with Mr. Barrington-Coupe donning a thick beard and a thick German accent, telling everyone he was René Kohler and wagging the baton. And just suppose this was all set up to make Hatto believe she’d actually made the recordings that went out under her name. There’d have to be at least a hundred musicians around who’d remember something and nobody’s come forward yet. Silence at that level would be mighty expensive.

Scenario 5: Hatto remained alive until 2006, but by the time the fakes started she was too ill to have any idea what was going on. I’d like to believe this one, too. Unfortunately the correspondence I quote below suggests a sadder truth.

Scenario 6: Hatto remained alive until 2006 and after a few desperate attempts to make a recordings succumbed to her husband’s suggestion that they make a fool of the musical world. He saw to the recordings, she got up a network of admirers by sending out friendly letters to critics judged to be potentially useful. I’m about to make mine public. I’d be interested to know how many others got such letters and I hope they’ll publish them too. If she wrote these letters herself, and as I shall show, they have a lot of details that would be hard to fake, then I’m afraid this scenario is probably the one.

Well, before I get to the letters, here are a few other oddities and reflections. The first of these seem to suggest that some genuine recordings might indeed have been set down at the Concert Artist studios, whether or not by Joyce Hatto.

The version of the Brahms op.118 pieces coupled with the second piano concerto – which has been proved a rip-off of the Ashkenazy/VPO/Haitink – contains two performances of no. 4. I didn’t pay particular attention at the time, supposing the duplication to be some sort of editing error. A later e-mail from Barrington-Coupe – which I don’t seem to have conserved – told me that she wasn’t quite sure which performance she preferred so both had gone on the disc. When op.118 reappeared as part of a disc containing opp. 116-119, there was yet another performance of no. 4. My description of the small difference I heard can be read in the review. In due course Barrington-Coupe congratulated me on my perspicacity. Alas, I can’t find this e-mail either.

In due course I will have to listen again and try to decide if these are really three different performances or the same one doctored in three different ways. However, the differences regarded basically the more or less successful balancing of the canons on which the piece is based and this isn’t something that can be fiddled like the tempi. Since an op.118 with three different versions of no. 4 could hardly have been found in commerce – the differences are very slight, there’s no question of them coming from different sources – it looks as though this might be genuine.

However, if anybody knows of an op.118 which accidentally got into circulation with two performances of no. 4, it would be well to examine it.

Another aspect of op.118/4 could give a clue. The pianist of this disc makes a notable diminuendo during Brahms’s final downward plunge. This is not marked in the score and the other pianists I have on disc maintain their forte to the bitter end, as I believe they should – my only quarrel with an otherwise magnificent performance. So, without looking at timings that might be fiddled, anybody seeking the source of the Hatto op.118 can go straight to the last bars of no. 4. Only pianists making the same unmarked diminuendo need be considered.

Something a little similar happened with the Debussy Préludes. I was sent a preliminary pressing in which the first two notes of "Bruyères" were played twice. After submitting my review – in which I mentioned this – I was told that Barrington-Coupe was sending me a corrected copy immediately and would I amend the review as soon as I had heard it. The review was duly held over until the corrected copy arrived.

When it hit the doormat I noted that, apart from having the offending two notes removed, the final copy had a completely different sound and some different timings. Somewhat puzzled, I wrote as follows:

Sent: Thursday, October 27, 2005 1:06 PM

Subject: Re: Debussy

Dear Mr. Barrington-Coupe,

I was about to make just a few minor changes to my review of the Debussy Preludes when I noted that the final version has different timings for almost every piece compared with the test pressing, just a few seconds but amounting to over a minute overall. Are some of the performances different? In which case I will have to listen to the whole disc again, not just the pieces that had to be corrected. Taking Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses as an example, I found the new pressing much clearer (if a little less warm?), sufficiently different for it to sound like a different performance, though I couldn't quite decide whether it actually was. I'm sorry if the review of this disc is getting held up, but I wonder if you could clear these points?

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Howell

And received the following reply:

Dear Mr. Howell,

You are quite right there were some items that JH changed takes. Pretty well all the twenty -four preludes are single take performances and all date from the original sessions. "Les fées" was a second choice as Joyce felt that the original sounded "a bit like Cossacks" than anything else! She exaggerated of course but quite funny. That is privileged information! [In view of the way I have been duped, if not in this case then certainly in others, I do not feel bound by this]. But it will make you smile. The whole cd was completely remastered and some of the pauses between tracks were reduced very slightly. Joyce had a long conversation with Malcuzynski about the Debussy Preludes and they exchanged thoughts on what Paderewsky [sic!] had told him and what Cortot told her. Paderewsky slower and Cortot faster! Malcuzynski was planning to record the complete Debussy Preludes himself and had come to the same conclusion as Joyce that Gieseking was right in his tempi and that was the right tradition to follow. He never did record the 24 but there are some "tapes" of other Preludes around that have not been published. He did understand the music.

Did you see, by any chance, the article written by Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe on Joyce six weeks, or so ago? You might like to read it over your morning coffee and I will send it to you if it would be of interest. He had a two hour telephone interview with her and the article has created some considerable interest in Amnerica.

As you seem to like your pianists when they are firing broadsides (who doesn't) I have included in the next parcel a studio copy of the Petrushka master [I never got it]. The final cd to be issued will also contain the Firebird (Agosti) [where on earth was he going to pinch that, or did she really record it?] and a few other Russian delights. Both were recorded a few years back but the sound is pretty good 21st Century standard. In her note to accompany the cd J.H.writes "After hearing Youra Guller play the Stravinsky I didn't feel inclined to compete in the Petrushka Stakes but put a few more years working on it."

I should point out that the original performances of the Debussy would not have been changed but for the technical malfunction of the original master.

I hope all this has not been a bore but you do like backgrounds.

With very best wishes,


Concert Artist Recordings

If this is all pure invention it has been thought through very carefully. In view of the improbability of a disc on the market – and up for copying – containing such an editing error, it looks as if this, too, may have actually been made by Concert Artist.

But just supposing there is a version on the market with this editing error … You can imagine B-C’s dismay when he read my review and realized that, of all the versions to plunder, he had chosen one that stuck out like a sore thumb. You can imagine why he wanted the review held over, rather than published and amended later on. Anyone reading about those two extra notes might have thought: "Funny, there’s a version in my collection where the first two notes of ‘Bruyères’ are played twice, but the pianist’s not Hatto". Hence, perhaps, the additional fiddling about to make it sound less like the original. Anyone who knows of a version of Debussy’s Préludes with this anomaly is urged to contact Len Mullenger immediately.

My next point could mean anything or nothing. Frankly, the track timings published in CD booklets aren’t always correct, even from major companies. I had already noticed that those of Concert Artist are practically always wrong, as are the total timings. I had attributed this to the vagueness and unworldliness of two elderly people running a cottage industry. There could be another explanation. Deliberately publishing wrong timings would not deceive a computer, but it could deceive the casual eye of anyone who unknowingly held the "Hatto" in one hand and the source in the other. Furthermore, critics on MusicWeb and elsewhere normally put the published timings in their headers without questioning them, so these become the "official" timings you find in the internet.

And just a query. So many of the booklet notes, and some of the earlier reviews in MusicWeb, were written by William Hedley a reputable musical journalist who was engaged to write the notes and reviews. Did he ever setting foot in Royston, Hertfordshire? Perhaps he would make a statement [see below]. The same goes for the various people named as engineers, digital editors and so on. Brahms vol. 5 has John and Paul Cussons, Colin Meyerstein and Roger Chatterton. If they exist and made some real recordings with Joyce Hatto, could they speak up?

And so to the letters. When the full extent of them is known – I presume I was not the only person to receive them – they may be the most extraordinary element of the whole story. For not only were discs faked in considerable numbers, the background to them and the philosophy behind them was worked out in incredible detail, grafting past realities onto present falsities with scarcely a false step. And at the same time the work proceeded of buttering up anybody perceived to be of possible use. If the jury is still out on Barrington-Coupe’s detailed assertions regarding the Debussy Préludes – which might conceivably be genuine – the first letter I received from Hatto is chilling evidence that, if she really wrote it, she was involved up to the hilt. For the subject was "her" recording of the Chopin Mazurkas, and that is now known to be the work of Eugen Indjic. I will add that the first and last of these letters came by post, computer-written, with a scrawly signature which is actually produced by a laser-jet just as much as the rest. The others were sent by e-mail. So she may not have written them. But there are many, many details which I’m inclined to think could only have been written by the person who experienced these events, who met these people, not even by her husband. I also "feel" a female tone to them, though this is subjective and the first time I read them I had no reason to suppose they might not have been written by the lady who apparently signed them.

Here’s the first (my comments in italics and square brackets). All this correspondence is reproduced exactly as it stands, with no corrections to spelling, grammar etc.

12th March 2003

Dear Mr. Howell,

I do not usually write to critics as this, I feel, is a barrier that should not be crossed too often. However, your review of my Concert Artist set of Mazurkas has now made me aware of the reissue of the Nina Milkina set. I was so sorry to learn that Miss Milkina has been ill and this was the first indication that I had heard of her problems. She is a fine artist and I have heard her on many occasions, although mostly in the classical repertoire. I can still remember a particularly fine performance of the Beethoven G major Piano Concerto and her Mozart playing was always exemplary.

My husband has promised to obtain for me the mazurkas as well as the reissues of other original Pye recordings. I am so glad you are drawing attention to these reissues. There are so many pianists, so many recordings, but still too few contain memorable music making.

In reading your comments on Miss Milkina’s performances I was fascinated to learn that you had been a pupil of the rather mysterious Ilonka Deckers-Küszler. I worked intensively with Ilona Kabos for three years and, in later years, would spend a little time with her to iron out any bad habits that might have crept into my playing. During that time I also became friendly with Annie Fischer, who always walked around to Queens Grove, after her EMI sessions in Abbey Road, full of Slavic dispondency (sic!) over her efforts. Annie always held your teacher in considerable reverence and for her insight into Schumann particularly [I can testify that Annie Fischer remained in contact with Ilonka Deckers-Küszler to the end of her life and tried to persuade her to go back to Hungary after the Iron Curtain fell]. Of interest to you, particularly, was a comment over tea in Ilona’s garden. Ilona had quite casually mentioned, in passing, that I was offering myself up to slaughter by playing the complete set of Mazurkas in two recitals in Warsaw. Annie Fischer at once vouched her own opinion, "I would say suicide! I can’t imagine that even ‘Ilonka’ would attempt to do such a thing – and she (IDK) really could play the mazurkas!" [Despite declining technical command Ilonka Deckers-Küszler’s performances of some of the mazurkas were musically the finest I have ever heard]. However, some four months later, I received from Wroclaw a charming little card from Annie to say that she had heard from some friends in Warsaw that ‘her English friend (me) had been well received and had considerable success.’ She continued "I have now written telling Ilona that your slaughter appears to have been postponed!"

With regard to your review of my playing I would just mention that any deficiencies in my view, or performance, of these wonderful pieces is my responsibility alone. I could, and do, have as much time as I want for any recording. I have always preferred spontaneity to a public display of self-doubt. In this way, I think it is possible to maintain a fresh exploring outlook and a vitality in ones recorded performance after playing these pieces in public for nearly fifty years. The most perceptive comments that you have made about my playing, I am sure, is a result in good measure from this approach.

With best wishes and kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

Joyce Hatto.

Detailed, knowledgeable and very convincing. Could her husband, or any other person, have cooked it all up, elaborating on publicly known facts, reminiscences by the genuine Hatto and the information about Deckers-Küszler I had included in my reviews of the Milkina and Hatto discs? Maybe, but it would take a cunning mind to do it. Just two things jar a little. The Annie Fischer conversation must have taken place in the 1960s when Fisher recorded quite a bit for EMI. It raised my eyebrows a little that she said "I can’t imagine that even ‘Ilonka’ would attempt to do such a thing". ‘Ilonka’ assuredly would not, since she had not played in public since long before the war. Annie Fischer certainly knew that but the writer of this letter may not have. But it was about forty years ago. Perhaps Annie Fischer said "would have attempted", in which case the story holds.

The other point is the writer’s breath-taking assertion that she has been "playing these pieces in public for nearly fifty years". At the time of writing Hatto hadn’t played anything in public for 27 years! If I didn’t spot that at the time, I must say I reviewed my first batch of Hatto discs without any awareness of her "story". Since I don’t live in England, the fact that I hadn’t heard her name since the old Revolution LPs didn’t necessarily mean she hadn’t continued playing. I seem to remember visiting the Concert Artist site to find out something about them, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t have all the biographical material it later acquired. Was I singled out because I live at a safe distance?

I tend to agree that contacts between artists and critics are potentially embarrassing. I was delighted she was so pleased – though reading the review again I see I didn’t by any means go overboard and I preferred Milkina – but I didn’t reply.

The next communication came from WB-C. I was about half-way through reviewing the Mozart Sonatas – the discs were separate at the time and so were my reviews – and had compared her Mozartian style to that of Clara Haskil. Along came an e-mail from WB-C – which I don’t seem to have kept – pointing out that JH had indeed studied many of the sonatas with "Clara Haskel". We may note in passing that WB-C’s communications quite often spelt pianists’ names wrongly while those from Hatto got them right – see also "Paderewky" above. This would seem to prove at least that two different people were writing, though I suppose even that could be faked. He kindly told me some of the things "Haskel" had said about Mozart interpretation and, after asking his permission, I duly put this information in my review of the final volume. It may be noticed that, though WB-C had not induced me to write anything I did not believe, he nevertheless manipulated me into publishing information which, if true, would lend additional authority to the interpretations. Evidently purring with delight, Hatto wrote again on 11th May 2004.

Memo to Christopher Howell

Dear Mr. Howell,

I have been reading your notes for my Mozart endeavours. It so refreshing to read a review of ones work in which the reviewer has the interest to take time, patience and a little research to make comments and justify them. I know that you are a musician and that you teach and I am sure that by the care you take over your reviews you must be good and observant teacher. I seem to remember writing to you before stating that I don’t very often write to music critics but here I am again with you. I excuse myself because in some of your comments you seem to be inviting me to do so!

I have always found that playing Mozart is a minefield when one departs at all from the "accepted" urtext editions. However, in a longish life, I have had the opportunity of seeing various manuscripts and copies of early editions which do have interesting variants. I suppose that over time some small variants I have retained and others, through ‘admonishment’ and a change of personal taste, I have disowned. When I studied with Zbigniew Drzewiecki in Warsaw he gave me some photocopies (photo fax did not exist then) of some early printed editions in which Mozart had written some variants for the daughter of Christian Cannabich. I understand that Artaria acquired these but did not bother to make the expenditure to prepare new plates after Mozart died. I loaned these photocopies several years ago to a well known and loved international pianist, one of the many with more blazoned names, who departed this world a few years back. It would appear that he departed with my photo copies as they could not be found by his widow among his papers. In passing, I should mention that Drzewiecki also rejected the Paderewski Edition in several instances and provided me with many textural changes. These he felt to be more accurate and I have retained his version in preference to the Paderewski Edition all my performances since those days when I was a student with him.

The question of "Appoggiaturas" and "Acciaccaturas" is another matter. I have never been a slave to ornamentation and decoration. My rule of thumb is simply to sing it and do what seems natural. After all, Mozart did say that you found his tempo by singing it. So many pianists ruin a perfectly singable and beautiful melodic line by simply sticking on ornaments as if with elastoplast. Many, if not most, of those blazoned names do just that! However, I must say that you are absolutely right with regard to the theme of K.331! I have agonised and spent many sleepless hours wondering how that came to pass. I have no excuse I played it and I now have to live with it – that is the problem with recording. On other points too I can accept your observations as being completely valid and I admit that sometimes I am a little perverse in preferring to differ!

As you are aware, I did have the opportunity of playing many of these sonatas to Clara Haskil. She did not teach the piano as such but listened! She was not adverse to make textual changes in her performances and these mostly escape comment as one is swept up by the sheer musicality of playing. One comment that she did make to me (when she liked some Bach that I had played) and one that I have always passed on to my students. "There is no such thing as classical and romantic – all the greatest music has depth of emotion – if you can’t find it then simply you are not a musician."

So, thank you again for your comments, addressed to me as well your general readers, and thank you for the trouble that you have taken to balance your review. I have always had a regard for Alicia de Larrocha and I was upset that her Mozart playing was dismissed by some critics who should have known better and treated her performances with more thought and care. Her musical history and dedication deserves more discerning comment.

With regards and kind thoughts,


Joyce Hatto

The pattern is similar: the usual "buttering-up" first paragraph then a mass of detailed information which certainly sounds like first-hand experience. All this business about Drzewiecki having photocopies of manuscript variants by Mozart himself would have to be checked out with other Drzewiecki pupils but it sounds plausible – and of potential musicological interest. Of breathtaking impudence is her claim to use Drzewiecki’s variants in "her" Chopin performances, or did Eugen Indjic study with Drzewieski too?

If anything jars here it is the last paragraph. Her dismay at Alicia de Larrocha’s critical treatment sounds too exaggerated, almost as if she had got the wrong end of the stick from my comments without really knowing the facts of the case. It is true that de Larrocha’s playing of the classical repertoire has never greatly excited British critics, but it was not savaged or derided by any means and she has been universally recognized a great pianist on the strength of her Spanish repertoire. Taking this together with her unawareness of Milkina’s retirement (in 1991!) the possibility begins to emerge of a person with almost total recall of the past but living in a present of her own imagining.

At the time of writing, no match has been found for these Mozart performances and for all we know they may be genuine. As a musician rather than a technician, could I point out that the issue of appoggiaturas and acciaccaturas could be very helpful? The solutions in this cycle are not always the standard ones and they could not be altered, as speeds and timings can, so potential sources could be eliminated one by one as departures from the Hatto cycle emerge. Concentration on any one sonata, or even a single movement, would probably weed out a lot of versions. Just a hunch: I don’t know the late Haebler cycle on Denon, but the style’s about right.

This time I did reply, on 15th May. I don’t seem to have conserved many of my e-mail messages but this one is in a file. I include it as possible evidence of the way the person the other end elaborated on information recently received and grafted it onto a mix of factual (probably) past and fictitious present.

Dear Ms. Hatto,

I am touched that you have taken the time to write to me (twice). As you say, performers do not often write to music critics (and vice versa). However, perhaps I am not really a music critic at all – I was invited to review discs for Music Web a few years ago but still hope to be considered a musician!

The question of the early editions with Mozart’s own annotations seems to me to be of considerable importance and I wonder what happened to the original copies from which Drzewiecki’s photocopies derived, and whether they have been consulted by the editors of the various Urtext editions. Unfortunately these editions rarely provide much evidence as to how they arrived at their texts. Ilonka Deckers, by the way, always stood by an old Hungarian edition edited by Edwin Fischer which I have never seen since – for her the Urtext editions were wrong when they were different from this! I had always supposed that she allowed her judgement to be coloured by personal considerations, but maybe Fischer was aware of these variants.

As for ornaments, I daresay we all run the risk of learning the music with the ornament incorporated in our chosen interpretation and then finding that other interpretations sound odd, but it is always salutary to be obliged to rethink. I certainly agree that the "most natural" interpretation is the one to aim for and it would be a poor world if there was a universal consensus as to what actually sounds "most natural". The other day I was preparing "Deh per questo istante" from "Tito" with a singer and the question of appoggiaturas came up. I am comforted that we seemed to agree that certain phrases sounded bare without the appoggiatura while in others the appoggiatura just sounded wrong, but maybe a third pair of ears will not agree with our conclusions.

On a similar line, many years ago I knew a cellist in Edinburgh who had studied with Casals. She told me she had raised the question of whether trills in Bach should begin on the upper or the lower note. His answer was simply to go to the piano with the "48" and look at the trills case by case, finding that some sounded more beautiful one way, some the other.

With kind regards,

Christopher Howell

This elicited an almost immediate reply, by e-mail. The subject was "I have been looking you up!" She had certainly been busy!

17th May 2004

Dear Mr. Howell,

Thank you for taking your time (once) to reply. I have been looking you up so I do know that you are a practising musician. When I mentioned your name to a colleague recently he seemed to think of you as an organist. I have only played the organ on two occasions when our local church organist fell sick and the vicar was unable to find a substitute in time for the morning service. I must say it was an ‘interesting’ departure from the piano. I think that the vicar was rather put off his sermon by some unfortunate bass pedal blasts from my foot that slipped on to the pedals from time to time. I have often thought that "Ad Nos" would make a splendid debut piece. I have played the Busoni version but it must be a great experience to play the original Liszt on a good organ [Here the buttering-up was wide of the mark. I’m not so bad an organist as pianists go but I’d never venture to play that piece].

I have also noted that you are interested in Bache. I presume that this means Edward, though Walter also produced some pleasantly interesting pieces. I played many, years ago the ‘Feu Follet’ that Edward dedicated to Arabella Goddard and a duet (played on two pianos) of an transcription of the William Tell Overture. One of my rather treasured books is Brother Musicians, Reminiscences of Edward and Walter by their sister Constance. Some lovely things in it and, old fashioned it may be, but quite fascinating.

I really have no idea as to what happened to Drzewiecki’s material. When I met him in London on one occasion he had been spending some time listening to some of Harold Craxton’s pupils who were entering the Warsaw Chopin Competition. He mentioned that Harold Craxton was interested in his comments concerning various alterations in the Chopin pieces and they had discussed some aspects of Mozart.

Now, as I also know that you have contributed an article on Craxton to MusicWeb, you might have the possibility of seeking out whether Drzewiecki passed on any material to him. I have in the past taken the trouble to listen to some Mozart played by some other musicians who studied with him in Warsaw and they seemed to stick to ‘safe’ ground and not even follow his Chopin amendments which I mostly do.

I agree with everything that you write on the question of ornamentation. I think that probably Casals got it about right in his advice to your cellist friend. His comment "play Chopin like Mozart and Mozart like Chopin" also underlines the inherent romanticism that that one finds in Mozart. Of course, Casal’s reputation permits him to say these things and only brave critics deride him for it. I have always played what I thought was right (for me?) and have taken some censure in my life for so doing.. Mostly, I must say, from English critics I have never been criticised in German journals and quite recently a German Magazine has been quite upbeat about my performances of the Goldberg Variations which has never been to the taste of the London Press.

Finally, I must mention, that Annie Fischer had Edwin Fischer’s variants in several sonatas. My memory is not really clear about this. I remember because she used the English term "namesake" and I seem to remember that these were on a corrected Augener copy [Can anyone confirm this?]. I am sure that she did not have an original edition. I think that one will never really know whether those who have prepared an "Urtext" edition ever saw or were indeed prepared to take notice of anything with which they didn’t agree. We are back to your teacher again.

To sum up I must thank you for taking the trouble to listen so carefully to my Mozart and I am very pleased that you have found something rewarding in them. I obviously feel a different tempo to that which you would prefer. I can only say that I have never heard anyone snore in my recitals although I have seen some elderly music lovers fast asleep in Beethoven as directed by some famous conductor. I am sending you the Liszt Transcendental Etudes – I don’t think you will find me gumming up the motorway in those.

With kindest regards,

Joyce Hatto

So here we go again. The buttering-up, some reminiscences which sound very, very genuine, some elaborations of my input and finally an outrageous reference to the recording which first exposed the whole sorry mess. Many details, it seems to me, could only have been written by a pianist, not even by the husband of one. Does the reference to Casals, with both verbs in the present tense, support the theory of a failure to comprehend present reality? Was she unaware that he died a good while ago?

Reading this through again before sending it for publication, it occurs to me that Hatto skilfully arouses my musicological curiosity over the Drzewiecki variants but simultaneously comes out with a nice little story explaining why she can’t actually produce any of them. Indeed, she actually turns the tables on me suggesting I might look for them in the Craxton studio.

Incidentally, my copy of the Liszt Transcendentals has a dedication to me from Hatto, again in that scrawly handwriting which I now see was done at the computer.

At about this stage my recording of the Stanford Cello Sonatas with Alison Moncrieff Kelly was issued on Meridian. Looking around for the possibility of placing further projects, and still believing Concert Artist was a genuine concern, WB-C was one of the people to whom I sent a few proposals. The following e-mail of 30th August 2004 includes his response:

Dear Mr. Howell,

Thank you for your message and I am relieved that you received the parcel safely at Ruislip before you left. I still haven’t found time to copy the Tchaikovsky Concertos but I will get them done next week. I hope you received the disc containing the Prokofief Concerto. I fear though that the office packed the disc intended for you and sent it to Jonathan Wolf (sic!) as Joyce written "That old slow coach" under her name on the back inlay! [This incident seems to show that there are collaborators of some sort. I wonder how much they know?]. The joke rather misfired as JW didn’t really understand what it was about. I am sending the Beethoven Op.106 (Vol.8) to you next rather than the op.10 set.

Now, with regard to the other things that you mentioned. Margaret Moncrieff [Alison Moncrieff Kelly’s mother] is known to me as she took part in a concert of music by David Gow at the Wigmore Hall in the 1950’s. She was a very musical cellist and had plenty to say in her playing and had the technique to say it splendidly. She played the Gow Cello Sonata with Graham Mitchell (Ching & Ferber pupil) that I organised for the composer. All this is many years ago and I had only been out of the army (National Service) a short while, as I remember it, just a matter of months. I was rather young and very green behind the ears then. I am interested in looking at the possibilities that you mention and will see what could be done for next year. We are hoping to extend our British Music catalogue and there is a possibility that I could find a patron to assist with things a bit.

I will write again later.

With best wishes,

W.H. Barrington-Coupe

Concert Artist Recordings

The matter was not referred to again and under the circumstances I am relieved not to have got involved. Though as we now know, my actual presence would not have been fundamental for any recordings …

This particular exchange has little bearing on the argument but I include it because at least something proves to be true. Margaret Moncrieff has confirmed that WB-C acted briefly as her agent, she thinks in 1951. The Gow concert was exactly as he says and was their only collaboration. He drifted out of view and she had never heard his name again until now.

Next came the Debussy incident already mentioned. Before the exchange of e-mails quoted I had received another, as a sort of "accompaniment" to the Préludes that were in the post:

Sent: Monday, October 24, 2005 1:19 PM

Subject: Debussy

Dear Mr.Howell,

Forgive my tardy correspondence. Joyce hasn't been very well and has been in and out of hospital for the past four weeks. She has recovered and is back at home but is obviously on a slightly lower plain than before.

Len asked for a copy of the Debussy Preludes and being out of stock a file copy of a (test disc) never issued was sent off. I have sent the final commercial version plus the second number in the Debussy series. I hope that you will like both of these. The Debussy Etudes have found favourable ears - particularly with those who have never appreciated the Etudes as being "music" and that, I think, was the over-riding consideration in her performance.

I am putting some other things together for you that I hope you will find time to hear and comment upon in due course. I am sending the Liszt Operatic Transcriptions (seems appropriate you being so close to La Scala) and wonder if you would like the Prokofiev Sonatas? [I never got any of these]. The Mozart Sonatas are being used to open our campaign launch in USA and JH made certain revisions in the light of your comments and we have made good the silly editing error in the first movement of the A Major, K.331. I will send you the boxed set for your collection when it is available but, hopefully, for your pleasure and not to add to your to review pile.

With kind regards,



Concert Artist Recordings

Incidentally, the first copy of the Debussy Etudes I received was beautifully sealed in plastic and had a nice booklet but no disc was inside. It seems he could be truthful occasionally… And the sooner I know who played that gorgeous performance of "La plus que lente" the happier I’ll be.

The next exchange was brought about by my review of Mussorgsky’s "Pictures". On 24 November 2005 Joyce Hatto wrote:

Dear Mr.Howells (sic!),

You have raised a few matters in your review of my performance of the "Pictures".

Actually, I have no "authority" handed down from a printed edition. I must say that I always mistrust "Urtext" editions as they are never exactly what they proclaim. Mozart and Chopin always seem to attract "scholarship" of a kind that can never accept that the composer did mean what he had put down on paper. Any deviation from notation in a first movement repeat or in a reprise is immediately put down to the composer having simply been tired, forgetful, ignorant or perverse. Chopin has suffered badly from these busybodies who think that their understanding of harmony is more to be trusted than the composers. They water down piquant harmonies "discords" to fit in with their own lesser flights of fancy. This has happened in some Chopin "Urtext" Editions when even the composer's own corrections of the original platemakers engravings have remained "uncorrected". They have frequently ignored existing copies of first editions that have been used by the composer's pupils and assiduously corrected by the composer and point to quite different conclusions.

However, back to Mussorgsky. When I first played the Pictures to Moiseiwitsch he told me quite casually that Rachmaninov had considered producing a "performing edition" but had given up on the task feeling that it was better to leave well alone. Rachmaninov did pass on some of his ideas to Nicholas Medtner who allowed me to copy them into my own edition. I am not aware that Rachmaninov did actually perform the piece but I do know that he intended to play the work in a Boston recital but gave up on the idea. I have incorporated one or two of the thoughts that Rachmaninov passed to Medtner. I did not entertain any harmonic changes but did divide up some chords for the sake of harmonic emphasis. I have endeavoured to play each of the Promenades slightly differently to make for a more thoughtful (or thought about) performance of the work. Here again I have no "authority" but it was Alfred Cortot who actually suggested that I should play the piece originally and passed on some splendid personal comments and advice. Some of these points you have picked up on in your review.

So I claim no credit for many of the interpretive differences that I sincerely believe add up to a different kind of performance. I have tried to make a diffuse piece, although a very great one, just a little more cohesive, but one always tries to do that and not sprawl about with ones own emotions unbridled.

I have probably not helped you very much in answer to your request for "authority" but neither have I attempted to pass the cup to escape the culpability for any digression!

I take this opportunity of thanking you once again for your interest and the very nice things that you have been saying about my playing. I understand from email copies, that my husband has shown me from time to time, that your opinions have produced some opposing eruptions from some quarters. I have frequently encountered this and have never understood it. Do take care.

With personal kind thoughts,

Joyce Hatto

The "buttering-up" was reserved for the end this time. With regard to the "eruptions" I have to say I remain blissfully ignorant of them, perhaps because I don’t normally read Google newsgroups. However, since this affair burst I have been taking a peep and I must say that if certain people, who apparently have the time to send six or seven messages per day, ever mentioned my name, "eruption" would have been the word, since they don’t know how to express themselves in any other way.

More to the point, this time Hatto gave more generalized answers, to the extent that I put to her a specific point once again, on 29th November 2005. I raised a few other issues with which I won’t bore the reader, though answers to most of them followed:

Dear Ms. Hatto,

It was very kind of you to write regarding the Mussorgsky although, as you say, you haven't produced any "authority". My one query regarded your sudden drop to pianissimo at b.21 of Bydlo which, as it isn't in the so-called "original version" edited by Paul Lamm, I wondered if you had it from some other source. As I said, it's magical; do I take it that it's your own idea?

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Howell

The reply revives the misspelling of "Paderewsky". This and the time of sending – 01:29 – makes me wonder if WB-C really wrote it though there is the usual display of inside information, perhaps even an excess of anxiety to answer every single point. The tone seems a little more brusque than usual.

Dear Mr. Howell,

Please forgive such a late response to your interesting letter. I really do try to cope with correspondence quickly but I seem to have had so many letters recently from America that I am beginning to feel swamped with them all. These are letters from young students seeking advice, others who really want a pen pal, and others who would do pay to contact a psychiatrist.

Well as I am working on the complete Haydn Sonatas I can appreciate your comments at first hand. I have done my best in the past to present what I sincerely felt and believed to be the composer's intention. You know sometimes, somehow, one feels what is right. If I feel that then I do it regardless of the edition or the standing of the editor (alive or dead).

I would probably bring the musical establishments of the entire world down on my head if I let it be known that I have often consulted the Liszt Edition of the Beethoven Sonatas to

see what "He" thought.

I met Cyril Scott many years ago when I played a programme of his works and John Ireland. I played his Piano Sonata Op.66 and some other pieces. The striking thing was that he didn't seem to have formed a "final" performing score in his mind of any of the pieces. Even Lotus land was completely different when he played to me. In the sonata he played a whole "new" section saying "I always thought that I should have left that bit in but "they" said it should come out" I think he probably listened to too many people who presumed to give him advice. I found the whole thing rather disturbing. John Ireland was quite the opposite. He did have firm ideas - although did write to me afterwards "you played the sonata ....and sitting in the hall I felt that your tempos were absolutely right and you were right NOT to have bound yourself to what I suggested" At that time I often played Sarnia with the Sonata for which I have always had an affection.

How I agree with Mr.Kelly with his point about the Shakespeare Editions. How true that is!

Of course, the Warsaw edition (Paderewsky) does have a very good summary of various other editions and mostly (but not always) one can accept their arguments. However, I can't refrain from pointing out that Paderewsky himself played many of the Chopin pieces that he actually recorded quite differently to the Edition that bears his name. I can, of course, only make a valid point as far as those editions that he "signed off" before the 39/45 war.

So in the end we can only do our best. Confident, perhaps, that only a small percentage of ones listeners would be able to tell the difference between an E flat and E natural, and only a slightly larger percentage the composer one was playing (without the programme note).

The important thing is that WE care. Consequently I play what I "feel" is right and accept the Edition that I play from if I can't work out a valid argument not to. Benno M played always from his Russian editions (he never bought a new one of anything since his early student days) and very rarely left the confines of the edition as printed. Rachmaninov was quite different and he would point out what he thought was wrong in notation and harmony. AND the great man would write back " You are right my dear friend. You understand what I am trying to get down on the paper BETTER than I do" So, it is a minefield!

Being only human I do sometimes make very small changes and the Bydlo is one of them.

I have asked my husband to send you the boxed set of the Mozart Sonatas -putting right some little slips and things. I hope that you receive it safely and note that I do listen to good advice!

With kindest personal regards,

Joyce Hatto

The comments on Scott and Ireland tally with what we know about these composers, but for that very reason could have been worked out by somebody else. Besides, if Hatto had such encounters with Scott and Ireland in her earlier days she would have told her husband all about them.

The sudden piano in "Bydlo" is vaguely alluded to. According to the picture that is emerging, Hatto might not really have known what I was talking about while her husband might have had a vaguer premonition that this could be a millstone around his neck. And so it might be yet … Since this striking deviation from the written score cannot be followed by many pianists – maybe only one – it should lead us straight there. If this performance hasn’t been identified in the meantime, how about all readers getting down any "Pictures" they may have. And trying out Bydlo. If it starts piano, as some do, following the old Rimsky-Korsakov edition, forget it. If it starts forte and at b.21 – for those who do not read music, this is where the melody suddenly goes up high (and Ravel introduces strings) – it lumbers on at a steady forte, forget that too. If there’s a sudden magical piano, write to Len Mullenger about it. Only the ones that do that need be considered.

Lastly, this insistence on letting me know – for the second time – that changes to the Mozart were made on my advice seems very strange. I listened to the Mark II Mozart only recently when reviewing the Lili Kraus cycle. I sampled the beginning of each movement in the Mark I version without hearing it right through and I reminded myself of de Larrocha only here and there, noting that my earlier feeling that de Larrocha was excellent but Hatto usually better still was confirmed by these spot-checks. In retrospect I have an idea that the changes in the Mark II version are more for the purpose of putting people off the scent. The sound perspective is completely changed, especially in the first two volumes, the booklet timings are more misleading than ever and the final track of CD 2 has 24 seconds of silence added at the end, which might be enough to throw any research based just on timings. Only occasionally did a performance actually seem different. There seems a certain element of cock-eyed humour behind the whole exercise and I’ve a ghastly premonition that if I really got down to it, I might find a de Larrocha movement has been slipped in somewhere for my benefit.

I believe I have conserved all communications purporting to be from Joyce Hatto but I have been less zealous over WB-C. I remember one over the Brahms Handel Variations in which he responded to my comment that it might have been nice to start the disc with Handel’s own variations on the theme. He told me that she actually did so in a recital many years ago. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be true.

There was also one about the Hammerklavier in which I was thanked for finding that her unusually swift slow movement, suggestive of Schubert or even Dvořák, was a valid alternative to the usual, more introspective view ŕ la Schnabel. It seems she was particularly grateful to me for saying this since the press had often attacked her over her playing of this movement. This recurrent obsession with critics and the press, by the way, is another lead that psychologists might look into.

It might be noted that Hatto’s tone of kind sincerity, combined with WB-C’s avuncularity, combine to give the recipient of their efforts a sense of security, that he is doing the right thing in drawing attention to these recordings, that the couple are not only grateful to him but actually interested in him in a very human sort of way. It induced me to do something I would not normally dream of doing with a pianist whose work I had reviewed. I sent Hatto dedicated copies of my own recorded output, a meagre three CDs. It had never occurred to me that there might be a very simple way of sending a whole lot more, maybe even some of her "own", suitably doctored … I didn’t really expect her to listen to them, much less to comment on them, it was just a good will gesture. My handwritten accompanying letter said something to the effect that at least I needn’t worry that she might review them.

However, no stone was left unturned in this exercise. WB-C was first off the mark.

Subject: Thank you!

Date: Sunday 19 February 2006 11.20

Dear Mr. Howell,

Joyce has asked me to thank you for the surprise present of your own activities on the keyboard. These arrived earlier this week but, unfortunately, she is spending a few days in hospital for some treatment but I expect her to be back home in a few days. I took them in to show her together with your letter and the thought of writing a review amused her.

I hope you got the Mozart Boxed Set safely? We didn't include "press reviews" on tne outer box -an oversight really- but we are doing so on the Beethoven Boxed Set and including some of your comments. Did you notice that Ates Orga picked up your comment on the Liszt "Italie" in his article that MusicWeb have now published?

The weather here has been rather miserable but the snowdrops are out in the garden and I am praying that the squirels will leave them alone.

Best regards,



Some time later I received my last letter signed Joyce Hatto. This time "Dear Mr. Howell" had become "Dear Christopher" in the usual scrawly "handwriting" which is as computer-written as the rest. This is all the more noteworthy when WB-C has asserted – on the Concert Artist site and elsewhere – that Hatto always sent handwritten replies to all her well-wishers. Can anyone produce one?

These false dedications and signatures might seem to prove that Hatto herself was not involved, but on closer thinking they do not. They are part and parcel of the "buttering-up" process – I did not immediately notice they were not genuine – but they would also enable her to deny all involvement if things came to a head while she was still alive. I could never prove that she wrote these letters, indeed I am not certain that she did though on balance I tend to think so. The most that could be shown is that those sent by e-mail came from the family computer. Anyway, here it is:

8th May 2006

Dear Christopher,

I am sorry that I have been so late in writing to thank you for your very interesting collection of cd’s [my guts squirm every time I see CDs with an apostrophe but my duty is to reproduce these letters exactly as they are] and your very generous dedication!

I have been behind with all correspondence of late due to very necessary hospital treatment and then an additional period of convalescence to recover from some rather poorly medical procedures. Plus, in addition to all traumas, I had been hoping that I could send you a sampler from the Haydn series as you mention this particularly in your letter. As critics, over the years [here we go again], have never approved of my Mozart "Tame" "Ordinary" "Run of the Mill" "Stylistically arguable" "Chopinesque" "Lisztian" – the latter meant, I feel, to be particularly insulting. However, I have always rather liked that comment as I do think that Mozart should sparkle. It was obviously just too exciting for that jaded palate.

So now we come to Haydn. I have used the Christa Langdon edition [does the misspelling of Landon tell us anything?] and, consequently, revised most, but perversely, not quite all my stylistic errors. So, my good friend, I shall be awaiting your considered comments in due course. I have never really understood why so many of my colleagues make all Haydn’s music so uninteresting and lacking in good old fashioned feeling. So there is your first clue! [I never received any Haydn].

I have listened to the Harold Craxton disc twice completely right through and then a little more carefully to certain tracks. I once heard HC play one of his pieces at a reception. I think he said "Bagatelle" but I may be wrong. I don’t think that anyone was really impressed. However, your performances on this disc quite distinctly give his music an "English" sound. I think that sometimes the music could have done with a few more notes and some of his ideas could bear the weight of some development. But, I suppose, Harold with all that teaching and editing other people’s music simply couldn’t find time to allow anything to mature a bit more.

Of course with Cyril Scott there are different problems. I think I wrote before mentioning that I had played his sonatas to him [actually the letter said the he had played the op.66 sonata to her]. Whenever I asked him his opinion or what exactly he meant he always came out with "What you played seemed fine to me – you are the one performing it". It is always a little disconcerting when composers come out with these sorts of comments and then play their published music happily changing their notation twice in half an hour. This made me feel that Cyril Scott’s music is basically improvisational and I think you got the message. Especially as you mentioned that you "would do some of it rather differently now".

The Stanford cd is music of a different calibre and you are right in commenting on Alison’s romantic playing. Just right! Altogether a very worthwhile issue and I am pleased that I now have it in my collection. It is a great pity that Stanford has never been given the credit for some quite extraordinary music. Often this is quite bold and very inventive. Quite the opposite really to what commentators so often say!

So, thank you for the kind things that you have said about my own playing and for defending me against some quite unwarranted criticism.

I have been pleased for your sake that others have been supporting your comments when writing about these recordings. I have certainly learned in my long life that nothing is straightforward or simple! [Was this a hidden clue?]

With very best wishes,


Oddly enough, the comment about the Craxton reception raised my eyebrows at the time, but I thought "oh well, if she says so … ". Not because no piece called "Bagatelle" is known to survive. This doesn’t entirely prove that one may not have existed and she wasn’t sure about the title in any case. For that matter Craxton did write "Barcarolle" which would be unlikely to impress anybody. However, would not a true forger, WB-C or some other party, piecing all this together meticulously from public information and my input, gone straight to the Craxton work-list – available on this site – and named a real piece?

No, what doesn’t quite convince is the fact that he played it at all. In the course of my research into Harold Craxton I have been assured by family members and former pupils that he never pushed his own music. He didn’t expect his pupils to play it or even tell them about it and not even his family seem to have heard him play it. If he played something at a reception, it is likely to have been one of his beloved early English composers. This suggests that the memory is a little hazy.

Or unconsciously elaborated. Once again, I can’t escape the feeling that the writer of this letter really believes in what she is saying. The pattern emerges yet again of a real past, sometimes reinvented on the basis of present input, and an unreal present. Even the comment about Stanford and the commentators, looking at it again, may come from a person whose last real memories came from a time when Stanford’s music was regularly dismissed without a proper hearing. Though much Stanford still awaits discovery, my CD fits into a climate of generally positive assessment of his work. Hatto may not have known that.

And then the obsession with critical attacks. I am thanked for "defending" her against some "quite unwarranted criticism". Frankly, I didn’t. I listened to the discs and discussed the performances I heard. I have never even seen bad reviews of these discs, let alone defended her against them. This again sounds like a sincere person whose outlook is distorted by a strong obsession. A genuine forger would not have written this, I suggest.

In a small way, it is not uncommon for a person to adapt reality to what they want to believe. Just one small example. One pre-Christmas period, when I would have been 9 or 10, I saw in my step-grandmother’s sitting-room a table piled high with what looked like the leftovers of a jumble-sale. In fact they were her Christmas presents, to be duly wrapped and allocated to family and friends. As I was already taking piano lessons and beginning to take stock of the world of music, I naturally stopped to look at an LP of Rachmaninov 2. She beamed at me and said "That’s a good record, isn’t it". "Yes", I said politely, though even at that age I thought it unlikely, since the pianist was Joseph Cooper. On Christmas Day I duly found the disc under the tree and later learned that she had told my mother that I had "chosen it" myself. My step-grandmother was noted for these small elaborations of reality, but she never did anybody any harm and at the most aroused a few giggles in the family. If the thing gets out of hand, I believe the medical term is "alienation".

Other harmless forms of this can specifically affect musicians. I once went to the Museum of La Scala to seek information about a retired opera singer who had apparently sung there in past years. No trace could be found – and cast-lists are detailed and complete, covering a very long period. The curator at the Museum told me that it is quite unbelievable how many retired singers become convinced, in old age, that they have sung at La Scala.

And was there not a British Prime Minister, honest, decent, stolidly unimaginative John Major, who apparently believed in a period of his education which proved not to have taken place?

I am not a psychologist. Could somebody who is confirm whether alienation can reach such an advanced form that a person – an ex-pianist – could actually believe that she has made records when she has not done so, maybe realizing in some inner world the ambitions that were frustrated in her real life? Could "unwarranted criticism", or warranted criticism for that matter, have sparked off the process in an exceptionally sensitive person who was, from that point of view, ill-equipped for the life of a public performer? In this case, the scam could have started fairly innocently as a means of satisfying the poor old lady who was clamouring to hear her discs. With no attempt to sell them at first. Note that the most outrageous ones – concertos purloined from Decca, Sony and EMI – seem to have been among the first. The later ones had more esoteric sources and were more carefully disguised. But she wanted to see the catalogue! After all, Concert Artist, though dormant, was some sort of a record company with a catalogue. So the discs went onto the catalogue, at first without any real publicity. But they were there. And somebody noticed them. And inquired. And so it snowballed as WB-C, combining shady past practices with a present desire to see his wife happy, threw himself wholeheartedly into the scam.

Could it have gone like that? If so, both of them deserve our sympathy. It must have been infinitely painful to live alongside a wife who was growing increasingly "potty". And it could explain why she survived her "cancer" so long. Perhaps her illness was of another kind?

Am I grasping at straws? The Hatto affair has left a very sick taste in my mouth, far more so than would have been the case if I had merely discovered that the Rolex I bought in a place off the Edgware Road was a fake. The temple of art is a sacred one and it has been defiled. Lovers of painting will laugh like drains at this since fakes are rife in their world. There have been some notable cases in literature. But not in music so far as I know. The nearest I can think of was the Rosemary Brown case, which faded away without anything being proved. In any case, the Rosemary Brown story was about faith and, like the Loch Ness monster, could never be completely disproved for those who wanted to believe it. The Hatto affair is about hard facts. It would take an avid crop-circler indeed to believe even now, against all evidence, that the Hatto Transcendentals are really hers.

Furthermore, the Hatto story as told appealed to all that is noblest and most idealistic in us. It told of triumph over adversity, of hidden talent finally recognized. For this reason one seeks a solution that wrests something noble and idealistic from the ruins, rather than accept the obvious conclusion that the pair were skilful con-artists, she no less than he. One seeks an elaborate explanation such as the alienation theory above. Or at the very least, one tries to cast WB-C as the sole villain in the piece, his wife being too gaga to know, or else long dead. This comes up against the fact that a Gramophone critic, Jeremy Nicholas, apparently had an hour-long interview with the lady. I hope that, whatever the promised revelations in the April Gramophone bring, Nicholas will provide a careful analysis of this interview in the light of what he now knows. And there is one thing I should dearly like to know. Was she wearing gloves? I say this because, while I don’t know if Nicholas is actually a pianist, he specializes in pianists and piano recordings, not only reviewing their records but interviewing them. Surely he could see whether the 77-year-old hands in front of him looked as if they were in a condition to play, if not Godowsky, at least Mozart, for which no match has yet been suggested. Or late Brahms miniatures and Debussy Préludes, recordings that present features, described above, to suggest that, if there are any real Hatto recordings, they might be here.

One might even hope to discover that the pair were duped by some third party. I can just about conceive ways in which such a thing could be done, but I can’t begin to imagine a motive. In any case, WB-C, as I understand it, is taking the line that real Hatto recordings were made of all these pieces, implicitly suggesting that somebody else substituted them at a later production stage. This line comes up against the concerto recordings, and I’d say the Godowsky, too. It takes an almighty fine pianist in prime form to play those pieces even badly.

A few communications from WB-C still came my way.

Sent: Sunday, July 23, 2006 11:27 AM

Subject: La plus que lente!

Dear Christopher,

I have just been re-reading your review. I thought that you might be interested in the "address" [included as an attachment] that I gave at Joyce's funeral - I had not remembered your comments at the time. Shameful.

Best regards,


Sent: Sunday, July 23, 2006 7:00 PM

Subject: Re: La plus que lente!

Dear William,

Thank you very much for letting me read this.

The fact that you had forgotten my comments makes it all the more interesting that we seem to have felt independently that this was a particularly affecting performance, even among the many Joyce has left us [It is such a beautiful performance that this in itself must surely make it easy to track down].

Best regards,


Sent: Monday, July 24, 2006 8:57 AM

Subject: Re: La plus que lente!

Dear Christopher,

Tony Fogg, Artistic Manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, wrote to me saying that he HAS to listen to it three times every morning with his coffee before he leaves his flat to face his office. He has a copy in his car to soothe him down before he drives home (only a couple of blocks away) in the evening. Richard Dyer is also hooked and plays it twice "most evenings" so its not just us!

Are you interested in the Vingt Regards? I am going to pop the Dukas Piano Works (quick copy) in the mail for you -just for pleasure. It has been cheering me up in these last weeks as I am coming to terms with things. Funny how something so expected (and a little bit prayed for) can still be so devastating.....

With best regards,


Sent: Monday, July 24, 2006 4:05 PM

Subject: Re: La plus que lente!

Dear William,

I have to admit I may not be the best person to deal with Vingt Regards. I've never really "got into" Messiaen and it remains something of a "foreign language" to me. Obviously I'd do my best but maybe others would be better qualified than me [this admission should have made me a "safe" choice of reviewer, but I never received it] ...

Best regards,


Sent: Monday, July 24, 2006 17:34 PM

Subject: Re: La plus que lente!

Dear Christopher,

I meant I would send you a quick copy of the master just to listen to - I felt that this wouldn't be quite for you but as you have been so interested in Joyce and her wide ranging repertoire - you might like to spare a little time to hear it. It is the sounds that she conjures up that makes it more interesting than the average "grunt and groan" that Joyce unkindly called some of the perpetrators. I will send you a finished copy of the set as its rather beautifully presented. For your collection!

Best regards.


Finally, as I was reviewing the revised Mozart cycle, I asked WB-C’s permission to quote from some of Hatto’s letters to me concerning Mozart performance. This is his reply:

9th January 2007

Dear Christopher,

It was very kind of you to allow me to read your article before publication. I confess to being more than a little choked at her humour and humility. She was such a kind and decent person and her unwavering disregard for her illness in dealing with everyone else and their problems (even in her final hours) makes it all the harder for those left behind to bear. I have no problems with your making these comments public and I wouldn't attempt to influence you otherwise. In fact in view of her comments and strictures to Alfred Cortot over reading Chopin's correspondence and his comments to her she could have had no inkling that people would be interested in reading her correspondence! Funny old life.

Whether critics today accept her as a great pianist is really of no consequence but I do know that she was great human being and, in God's eyes, that is probably more significant.

With kindest regards,


I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

I have rushed this article off while things are still at the beginning since I felt a duty to make available these letters which might shed some light on what happened. Probably I shall need to revise or supplement it when the situation is clearer. In the meantime, the work of identifying the recordings goes on. If any remain without a match, this may not necessarily mean they are by Hatto. Concert Artist was a real recording company, if a small one, and further back was active in recording a number of pianists, of whom Sergio Fiorentino at least was genuine. Some of these recordings were issued on LP on the Revolution label. Fiorentino was still alive so these at least must be what they say they are. Any which appeared more recently need checking. The phrase "recently discovered masters" sounds ominous. Fiorentino recorded for other labels and RAI must also have quite a number of his performances in their archives.

There is the possibility, then, that unissued tapes by other pianists were recycled into Hatto performances.

And just a curiosity. What happened between 1976 and 1989, when the alleged recording sessions began? If Hatto could play in public up until 1976, despite the developing cancer, surely she could have made plausible recordings for at least a few years after that. So why wait until 1989?

Christopher Howell

William Hedley adds:

I am a trained musician, a graduate of King's College, London and the Royal College of Music. I live in Southwest France where I earn my living teaching music and conducting choirs. I am the Editor of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society Journal. Over several years I have reviewed some seventy discs for MusicWeb and there are seven others currently on my desk awaiting completion. Early in 2003 I reviewed Joyce Hatto's performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3. I put it on without much enthusiasm but was taken aback by the quality of the performance. I faithfully transcribed my reactions. William Barrington-Coupe contacted me shortly afterwards and an exchange of emails resulted in a commission to write the insert notes for a series of Schubert performances. Since then I have contributed insert notes for thirty-four issues. Mr. Barrington-Coupe did not offer a fortune for this work but I was happy to accept his terms. He always paid promptly, until now, once the project was completed.

On most occasions Mr. Barrington-Coupe sent me a pre-production copy of the recording I was to write for. The performances were often revelatory and I was proud to be associated with them. There were strange events and inconsistencies, but Mr. Barrington-Coupe always seemed to be overwhelmed by the job of running his business. At the time I saw no reason not to believe what I was told. In any event, if recent allegations turn out to be true the invented story is more plausible than the real one.

I have reviewed eight Concert Artist discs for MusicWeb. None of these were discs for which I provided the insert notes.

At busy times Mr. Barrington-Coupe and I were in almost daily contact by email. We spoke on the telephone from time to time. I met him only once, in London. Joyce Hatto once sent me an email thanking me for some annotations which had particularly pleased her. I think I have a Christmas card from her somewhere in the house. I had no other contact with her.

My most recent review of a Concert Artist disc was of Liszt's Operatic Paraphrases, dated March 16 2006 on my computer. I hope readers will take a look at this review - as it begins with a clear and open statement of my dealings with Concert Artist up to that date.

William Hedley

Alex Ross on Hattogate

Joyce Hatto unmasked
The riveting music story of the moment is the Joyce Hatto hoax. Gramophone, which also has a major article this month on music in China, has revealed that several recordings attributed to the late, cultishly admired British pianist are identical to discs previously issued on other labels — including, remarkably, Yefim Bronfman and Esa-Pekka Salonen's well-regarded 1990 recording of the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto. The possibility arises that many or most of Hatto's hundred-odd releases on her husband's Concert Artist label are stolen property. Not having heard any Hatto discs, I can't begin to judge what's real and what's not, but it's a safe guess that anything conducted by the elusive René Köhler (scroll down this page for Concert Artist's unverified biography) is a fake; in one case he's Salonen, in another he's Bernard Haitink. You have here the beginnings of an excellent case study in how reputations and mythologies affect musical perception. Jessica Duchen links to an internet discussion where one piano expert is quoted as saying that Minoru Nojima's Liszt playing is "too clinical" and expressing a preference for Hatto — not aware that he's discussing the same performance! The same gentleman appears to respond to a detractor with anti-Semitic remarks. I have a feeling the story will only get weirder from here on out.

For more (and you know you want it), read Classics Today, On an Overgrown Path, and Soho the Dog. Classics Today has tracked down several more plagiarized recordings: Hatto's complete Ravel set is in fact Roger Muraro's, her Messiaen Vingt Regards is Paul Kim's, her Saint-Saëns Second Concerto is Jean-Philippe Collard's. As someone somewhere has observed, the Hatto scandal may at least do the service of shining a light on a bunch of gifted pianists who have never achieved international celebrity. Here's my review of Muraro's astounding 2003 performance of Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Joyce Hatto - The Musical Scam of a Lifetime?

Apologies for absence. Here is David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday.com on what may be one of the great musical hoaxes ever


On Tuesday, February 13, a CT.com reader, Mr. Brian Ventura (who kindly granted me permission to identify him by name) sent one of our writers, Jed Distler, a very remarkable email which he kindly forwarded to me. It seems that the reader had purchased a copy of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes with Joyce Hatto on the Concert Artists label, based on the numerous recommendations this pianist and recording had received (including our own). When he attempted to transfer this recording via his computer using iTunes, the track listing revealed the artist as Laszlo Simon, who recorded the same music for BIS. Comparing the Hatto to sample tracks of the Simon available on Amazon.com, the reader was shocked to realize that the two performances appeared to him to be identical. That was the substance of his email to us.

Here is the story as Jed himself tells it:

“I became fascinated by Joyce Hatto's story when I first read my colleague Jeremy Nicholas' feature overview of her recordings published in the January 2006 Gramophone. Because Jeremy is not one to gush, I was intrigued by his favorable, often ecstatic comments on the performances. In late February 2006, I contacted William Barrington-Coupe (Hatto's husband and the owner of Concert Artist), and he sent me a sampler culled from the Hatto catalogue. The sampler impressed me - indeed, certain selections bowled me over. Our subsequent e-mail and telephone exchanges couldn't have been more collegial and friendly.

Eventually Mr. Barrington-Coupe sent me a review copy of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes, and when I met him in person in London this past September, he gave me a large quantity of CDs for review purposes. It crossed my mind that the sheer quantity of recordings and consistent high artistic quality seemed too good to be true. Still, I assumed that the artist in question and recording information were accurate, at least insofar as the titles I reviewed for Classicstoday.com. I gave five of them 10/10 ratings for highest artistic and sonic quality. When I received Brian Ventura’s e-mail I decided to investigate further. After careful comparison of the actual Simon performances to the Hatto, it appeared to me that 10 out of 12 tracks showed remarkable similarity in terms of tempi, accents, dynamics, balances, etc. By contrast, Track Five, Feux Follets, sounded different between the two sources.

I reported my findings to Mr. Ventura, and cc'd Classicstoday.com editor David Hurwitz. I also cc'd Gramophone's editor James Inverne, plus three of my Gramophone colleagues who had written about Hatto. Then I wrote Mr, Barrington-Coupe. He quickly replied, claiming not to know what had happened, and to be as puzzled as I was. At James Inverne's suggestion, Andrew Rose contacted me, and I uploaded three MP3s from the Hatto Liszt disc. Andrew's research confirmed what my ears suspected: at least two Liszt tracks were identical between BIS and Concert Artist, while at least one was not.

Apparently this matter has fueled further investigation of Concert Artist releases credited to Hatto, along with the label's numerous CDs credited to the late Italian pianist Sergio Fiorentino. Let me say that I fully stand by what I wrote about the performances, and look forward to learning their authentic provenance. And I look forward to redirecting my positive comments towards the artists who deserved them in the first place, whomever they may be.

Jed Distler ”

In a further effort to get to the bottom of this anomaly, I contacted Mr. Barrington-Couple independently to seek clarification, and that is where the matter stands at this point. Meanwhile Gramophone, sensing a “scoop,” rushed onto its website a somewhat skewed version of this story, with the actual sequence of events and persons involved glossed over or omitted entirely (and this is the version reprinted in various other publications as well). I do understand Gramophone’s motivations, and really don’t care about being first past the post. This has the makings of a critic’s nightmare for the publications most committed to Hatto’s work. After all, if these discs turn out to be fake, as seems likely, and if the same critics who praised them to the skies panned their original incarnations, then it won’t just be Hatto and her label who wind up with mud on their faces. And Gramophone has, alongside MusicWeb, been Hatto’s most ardent champion.

That said, I firmly believe that critics who review music based on what they actually hear, rather than what the name of the artist leads them to believe they ought to hear, have little cause for concern. No rational person expects anyone, professional critic or layman, to be able to identify blindly any but a small handful of favorite recordings of any one piece. This is particularly true when one accepts as given that fact that the new recording really is new, however similar to others it may sound--never mind that the “pirate” may have tweaked the transfer in any number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways to disguise its origins. With dozens, if not hundreds, of available versions of most repertory standards, and the catalog in a constant state of flux regarding both new and reissued material (including countless tiny independent and “vanity” labels full of unknown artists), reviewing recordings these days evidently involves a small but real element of risk.

We critics have a choice: to stick only to major labels (or the remnants of them) and the certified “big” artists, or to try to identify and promote excellence wherever we find it; to give new artists and their small, often financially strapped companies their day in the sun; and to try to sift out the wheat from the chaff for our readers, regardless of provenance or the trappings of fame. The process necessarily begins with a perfectly sensible leap of faith: trust in the identity of the performers. Beyond a fair and accurate appraisal of the music on the disc, discovering fraud must necessarily be a matter of chance and opportunity. It is no more the critic’s job than it is the purchaser’s. And while this event will no doubt be turned into a Big Deal as the usual factions grind their usual axes, the fact is that 99.9% of all classical music productions are entirely honest, and critics are correct in believing them so and in giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Besides, it’s probably too much to ask the victims of a hoax -- what may turn out to be a very, very good one at that -- not to pass up the opportunity to rain down curses on the perpetrators. Music critics in general aren’t known for their sense of humor, particularly when it comes to laughing at themselves. Bernard Shaw was an exception, of course, but then he was more a brilliant writer than a factually accurate critic. I almost hope that Miss Hatto and her husband engineered this whole thing to teach a lesson to the “establishment” that effectively forced her into premature retirement from the concert stage in the first place. What a delicious bit of revenge that would be! The only real problem is that the public is also involved, and to deceive innocent music lovers into spending their limited budgets on recordings they otherwise would not want or need really is unforgivable.

As for Mr. Barrington-Coupe, he can very easily answer his accusers. He is being accused of stealing, among other things, entire concerto recordings. As I told him a few days ago, either he hired an orchestra, engineers, a recording space, a conductor, and paid them all, or he did not. Even Ms. Hatto’s solo recordings were not made just by her husband alone. In short, many others were involved, and they are even credited on the booklet jackets. Let some of these parties come forward and acknowledge their participation. Let Mr. Barrington-Coupe produce receipts, schedules, or whatever documentation is in his possession.

He should do it quickly; the longer he waits, the worse the situation looks for him. And if he has been the victim of “the old switcheroo” at some stage in the production process, he at least ought to have original master tapes of his wife that sound markedly different from the fakes. If so, let’s hear them under conditions that brook no uncertainty regarding their authenticity. Incidentally, in addition to the fake performances already listed on various websites, Hatto’s Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto appears to be the Collard/Previn on EMI. Concert Artists has issued it twice, at correct pitch in tandem with the Tchaikovsky Second Concerto, and a half-tone flat (and time-stretched) alongside the same composer’s Fourth and Fifth Concertos.

Her Ravel seems to be Roger Muraro’s cycle on Accord (Universal Classics France), recorded in May, 2003. It’s worth pointing out in this case that the La Valse is a special edition prepared by Muraro, and in his review Jed noted the unique textural layering in just this performance. The Muraro cycle was never released in the United States and consequently was not reviewed by ClassicsToday.com. It seems that a pattern is emerging that Hatto hunters may want to keep in mind. The perpetrator seems to be avoiding (so far) the wholesale raiding of British independent labels, for the obvious reason that this would risk detection at home. This may also explain why Concert Artist has been so unwilling to seek international distribution, despite many requests and the urging of Hatto fans. Can it be that what began as a small-scale local scam took on a life of its own?

Adding further evidence for this hypothesis, Hatto’s Messiaen Vingt Régards is listed in the Gracenotes database as Paul Kim’s Centaur recording, though this latter surmise is still subject to further confirmation. Jed reviewed the Kim for us on its initial release some time ago, and his rating for artistic quality was exactly the same as that given to Miss Hatto’s recording: 8. The rating for sound varied from 7 (for Kim) to 9 (for Hatto), but this can be explained by the fact that the sonics of the originals have been almost invariably altered in the transfer process. One particularly startling example is Feux follets, from the Liszt Transcendental Études, which sounds so different from the original (Nojima on Reference Recordings) that the much smoother articulation at first suggests a different performance altogether.

At the heart of this whole controversy, the real question isn’t so much what Hatto and her husband may have done. It is “Why?” As I’ve already pointed out, it’s not difficult in today’s digital marketplace to engineer a fake, but there’s so little money in doing so that one can only wonder why anyone would want to bother. What on earth is the point in taking famous recordings by major artists and issuing them on a vanity label (with no international distribution) as the work of a virtually unknown recluse? The sheer level of chutzpah involved in lifting entire concerto recordings wholesale from major labels (including the Haitink/Ashkenazy Brahms Second Concerto, or the Bronfman/Salonen Rachmaninov Second and Third Concertos) is either breathtaking, or simply insane.

We also should not forget that somewhere in this mess there is, apparently, the very human story of a career cut short, a struggle with a terminal illness, and a loving husband who lost his wife--unless that turns out to be nonsense as well. Robert von Bahr of BIS records captured the human dimension very sensitively when he told me: “If it is his love for his wife that was the reason behind this, I for one am not inclined to press charges.”

So let’s all keep an open mind until all the facts are in, and Mr. Barrington-Coupe has an opportunity to answer his critics and make his case. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and damning as the evidence appears, it still is not proof of direct culpability. Something surely happened; just how and why we don’t know yet. Besides, behind all of the hot air and self-righteous pretension, both current and to come, I suspect most of us will be enjoying ourselves. After all, at a minimum, everyone loves a scandal, and the hunt to discover how much Hatto is real, and how much is not, ought to provide classical music fans with many hours of pleasant diversion.

Finally, if it hadn’t been for the passion of one music-loving reader, Mr. Ventura, would we even be having this conversation? Let’s give him, and Jed, the credit they deserve for caring, and doing the right thing with speed, thoroughness, and tact. We are at the beginning of a process; there will be many more revelations to come, and I am happy to leave it to those far more involved than we ever were in Miss Hatto and her work to report on them. We have many other CDs to review, and no shortage of fine, hopefully authentic recordings to bring to your attention.

David Hurwitz
Executive Editor