TURNING A COLD PIANIST INTO A WARM ONE
In this letter to the editor of Intelligent Life, Bryce Morrison, a celebrated teacher and critic, replies to our article on the Joyce Hatto affair, by Rod Williams, who said critics were "fooled" by pirated recordings put out under Hatto's name...
A letter to the editor of INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine
In his article on "Hattogate", as it is now unaffectionately know, Rod Williams pays me a blush-making compliment before delivering the coup de grÃ¢ce. For one joyful moment I thought he had lined me up with F.R. Leavis, a truly great critic in another field, whose about-turn on Dickens once stirred a hornet's nest of controversy in academic circles. Having once admired Dickens as a great entertainer rather than a great novelist, Leavis went on to produce an entire book dedicated to Dickens's greatness, to the essentially Shakespearian quality of his novels. I make this point because it is possible to alter, or, at any rate, modify one's responses over the years.
But the situation regarding Joyce Hatto is another matter. Williams is correct when he tells his readers that recordings by Yefim Bronfman and Joyce Hatto are one and the same. How then could I criticise the former and praise the latter? Clearly, he claims, my judgment was "warped" (he is fond of words such as "duped", "fooled", and "tricked") by a sentimental notion or legend, that of a terminally sick woman who apparently played with awe-inspiring brilliance.
My reply is simple. The performances are identical except in one vital aspect. I have listened side by side to Sony's and Concert Artist's offerings [the Bronfman and the "Hatto" recordings respectively], only to find that their sound worlds are different. Sound is not everything, yet it can subtly, even radically, alter one's appraisal (many record companies flatter their artists shamelessly, making "small" pianists sound "big", or casting a tonal bloom on artists sadly missing from live performances). What is cold from Sony, shedding an oddly impersonal, fluorescent light on the soloist, becomes gratifyingly warm on Concert Artist. What is clear is that Bronfman's performance has not been lifted wholesale, but altered to suggest a different quality or calibre.
Of course, Williams may reply in his defence that professional, as opposed to amateur, musicians should be able to listen through such alterations (as one is compelled to do in the case of Rachmaninov's own 1919-1942 recordings) and also achieve a proper objectivity by not being beguiled by personality over music (reviews commencing, for example, "Ashkenazy's Chopin is self-recommending", are sadly familiar).
But the matter is not so simple. To repeat, sound or sonority can greatly shift and alter one's perceptions. The same considerations apply to a comparison between Roger Muraro's disc of Ravel's La Valse, and the later attribution to Hatto. Again, the sound has been altered to suggest something altogether grander, more suitably violent and theatrical than the original.
Of course, William Barrington-Coupe was more cunning than many have suggested, hanging on to his trickery until his cover was finally blown. And, as Julian Lloyd Webber, in a brief but telling article for the Daily Telegraph, explained, there is no skin off anybody's nose except that of the perpetrator of this deception. His grubby and cynical con should be suitably penalised with hefty fines, or a return to the prison he formerly inhabited, where he was incarcerated for fraud.