Friday, February 23, 2007

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.


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