STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
Rod Williams investigates the biggest fraud in the history of recorded music--the story of how the husband of a dying British classical pianist fooled the critical establishment into acclaiming his wife, Joyce Hatto, as a genius ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, September 2007; with a postscript
In January 2003 the Yahoo! great-pianists group posted an MP3 file of Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” played by a little-known English pianist called Joyce Hatto. The web forum put up only a 30-second extract. Even so, the group’s pianophiles, who obsessively compare notes on classical recordings, were captivated--and not only by the playing, but also by the player.
Joyce Hatto had retired from the concert platform in 1976, but a quarter of a century later, in her 70s and suffering from terminal cancer, she had toiled in the recording studio in an amazing burst of creative energy. Her discography was remarkable both for its size--at 103 discs, her output made her probably the most prolific pianist in history--but also for the matchless range of her repertoire. She had mastered the complete sonata cycles of Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Prokofiev; concertos by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mendelssohn; and all 53 of Godowsky’s transcriptions of the Chopin Etudes, the most impossibly difficult pieces ever written for the piano.
Word of this achievement soon spread beyond the web. The recordings--issued by Concert Artists, a small label based in Royston, 35 miles (56km) north of London--began to win highly complimentary reviews from the music press. By August 2005 her story had reached the rest of the media: “Joyce Hatto must be the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of,” began Richard Dyer in a profile for the Boston Globe.
Hatto’s husband, a recording engineer and producer called William Barrington-Coupe, explained what made her performances so powerful. “She doesn’t want to play in public again”, he told Dyer, “because she never knows when the pain will start, or when it will stop, and she refuses to take drugs. Nothing has stopped her and I believe the illness has added a third dimension to her playing: she gets at what is inside the music, what lies behind it.”
As Hatto struggled to the studio to lay down yet more recordings in the time left to her--she performed Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata from a wheelchair just three weeks before she died--critics joined a stampede to celebrate this triumph of art over adversity, of hidden talent finally recognised.
“I have no hesitation in saying that Joyce Hatto is one of the greatest pianists I have ever heard,” began Jeremy Nicholas in a eulogy for Gramophone. “If you want to experience a perfect assimilation of virtuosity and musicality, then she comes close to faultless.” Critics across the world compared her to legendary artists such as Claudio Arrau, Dinu Lipatti and Sviatoslav Richter. By the time of her death in June 2006, she was, in the words of Jed Distler, “one of the greatest, most consistently satisfying pianists in history.”
But in February this year, when Distler loaded Hatto’s CD of Liszt’s “Transcendental Studies” into his computer, he noticed something peculiar. The iTunes database recognised the disc as a recording by the Hungarian pianist, Laszlo Simon. Gramophone asked Andrew Rose, an audio expert, to investigate and by comparing the waveforms of the two recordings he could see instantly that ten out of 12 tracks were identical to Simon’s performances. Rose then discovered that Hatto’s version of the fifth Liszt study, “Feux Follets”, was indistinguishable from a recording by a Japanese pianist called Minoru Nojima. What is more, the performance had been speeded up, but digitally manipulated to remain at the same pitch. “That rang alarm bells,” Rose told me. “When you speed up recordings, you change the pitch--unless you have set out deliberately to mislead.”
With this evidence, Gramophone broke the story in mid-February and within a week the sources for some 20 of Hatto’s CDs had been found. Her much-admired Mozart sonatas turned out to be those of the Austrian pianist Ingrid Haebler; her Chopin/Godowsky Etudes were versions by Marc-André Hamelin and Carlo Grante; her Brahms Piano Concerto No 2, which had been issued under the baton of René KÜhler with the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra was actually Vladimir Ashkenazy and Bernhard Haitink with the Vienna Philharmonic. So far, recordings by 66 pianists have been identified and the number keeps rising by the week. It was the biggest fraud in the history of recorded music.
The first Joyce Hatto CD I ever heard was her Beethoven Appassionata sonata--a recording that turned out to be by the Irish pianist John O'Conor. It seemed to me to be a well-mannered, straight, slightly impersonal rendition of the text; a pale shadow of Emil Gilels, Daniel Barenboim or many others at their best. But as I listened to the recording, knowing it was a fake, what tantalised me was whether it would have sounded the same to me six months ago, with the image of Hatto’s tragically uplifting story in my mind.
As I discovered more about the fraud my questions proliferated. What was Hatto really like as a performer? Were the 66 plundered pianists in fact a collection of under-recognised talents--”the greatest pianists nobody had ever heard of?” Above all, what did the whole critical fiasco mean for the art of performance? The list of those who had been duped was formidable and included Bryce Morrison, Gramophone’s senior piano critic and Tom Deacon, the executive producer of Philips’”Great Pianists of the 20th Century”. Ivan Davis, a student of Vladimir Horowitz, had declared: “I know of no pianist in the world who is her superior musically or technically.” How had they all been taken in?
Jeremy Nicholas was one of the few critics to meet Joyce Hatto. The interview took place with her husband in the restaurant of the University Arms Hotel in Cambridge on July 26th 2005 over “a most enjoyable lunch”. Barrington-Coupe seemed a “likeable old buffer”, Nicholas wrote on a website, who “chipped in from the sidelines”. Hatto was “elegantly dressed in a once-expensive rather dated tweedy twinset and pearls and had a face of keen intelligence and one that had worn well.” Nicholas asked to examine her hands, which were small, pliable but muscular: “pianist’s hands--at least the romantic notion of them”.
Speaking to me recently, and in spite of everything that has happened since, he remembered her almost fondly. “She was a smashing lady,” he said, “completely dotty, wouldn’t stick to an answer, not because she was being evasive, but because she had a butterfly mind. You couldn’t ad lib the musicological facts she came out with without being a thorough, experienced musician.” Four months after the scandal broke Nicholas says he still “can’t square the gay, chatty, vivacious, quirky, extensively knowledgeable lady who was like a dotty old aunt, being involved in anything that was twisted€¦this grubby con.”
The critics had been beguiled by the discovery that Hatto, who was vaguely remembered if at all as a performer from the 1960s and 1970s, had been linked to some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. She was born in Maida Vale in 1928, the only daughter of an antiques dealer who was “a devotee of Rachmaninov, who never missed any opportunity to hear him play. It was almost as if Rachmaninov was a relative.” Her piano teacher, a Russian émigré called Serge Krish, was a pupil of the legendary Italian pianist, Ferruccio Busoni. In the 1940s Hatto rejected the sexism of the Royal Academy of Music--where she had been told “it’s really more important for a young girl like you to be able to cook a roast dinner and not bother with all this!”--and sought instruction from great pianists, including Alfred Cortot, Benno Moiseiwitsch and Sviatoslav Richter. “To reach my own standards, I needed to have a good technique,” Hatto told Dyer of the Boston Globe. “When I was young, people told me I had two speeds, quick and bloody quick.” She became the preferred interpreter of the composer Arnold Bax and worked with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten. Paul Hindemith, another composer who knew her, said that she possessed “a technique beyond prestidigitation€¦Her wonderful independence of line would surely have seduced Johann Sebastian into composing another ‘Forty Eight’just for her.”
But Hatto’s career was a literary fraud as well as a musical one--or rather, a concatenation of truths, half-truths and fiction that is impossible to disentangle. There is a striking absence of documentation for this biography so rich in musical heritage. What little does exist is of dubious provenance. An interview with Burnett James, a critic, was entitled “Joyce Hatto--A pianist of extraordinary personality and promise” and was supposed to date from 1973. But it was never published and appeared on the internet only in 2002.
In fact, the irrefutable documents, such as they are, hint at a very different story. By the time Hatto married Barrington-Coupe in 1956, she had already received the kind of reviews that would plague her career. “Joyce Hatto grappled doggedly with too hasty tempi in Mozart’s D Minor concerto and was impeded from conveying significant feelings towards the work, especially in quick figuration,” wrote the Times’s critic of her performance at Chelsea Town Hall in October 1953. She went on to appear in a variety of prestigious venues, including the Royal Festival Hall, but the concerts were arranged by her husband and time and again the reviews were disappointing. In the 1960s she failed three auditions to become a BBC performer and taught at Crofton Grange School in Hertfordshire.
In 1970 Barrington-Coupe arranged for her to record Arnold Bax’s “Symphonic Variations” with the Guildford Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. The recording received a favourable review. “Joyce Hatto gives a highly commendable account of the demanding piano part,” wrote Robert Layton in Gramophone and, listening to the performance today, it remains impressive, the high-water mark of her recording career.
In 1971 Hatto embarked on an ambitious series of recitals in which she planned to present the entire works of Franz Liszt. But something was awry. Reviews in the Daily Telegraph refer to “lapses of concentration” and “her very overwrought condition.” On one occasion, “before the first half of the recital had been reached, the pianist suddenly became victim of a nervousness so extreme that she had to absent herself halfway through a Polonaise.”
Andrew Ball, now a professor at the Royal College of Music, was at her final Wigmore Hall recital, on July 7th 1976. “It was extraordinarily accident-prone and just very bizarre playing,” he told me. “There was something slightly crazy about it--it was more than just not-very-good playing. Having said that, it did have this slightly wayward, pretentious air about it: it had some of the affectations of a great pianist without any of the goods.”
Joyce Hatto did not plan to vanish into the wilderness after she gave up performing in 1976. Between 1980 and 1990, some 70 cassette titles of her work were released, but they were mostly ignored by the critics. Precisely when the deception began remains unclear; certainly by 1993, when Eugen Indjic’s Chopin Mazurkas were issued under Hatto’s name, wholesale purloining was under way. But it took another ten years before the fraud could blossom. In the early 1990s it would have cost tens of thousands of pounds to manipulate recordings and disguise their provenance, but by the turn of the century the software was cheap enough for them to be “mastered” on a home computer for just a few hundred. And the explosion of the classical CD catalogue made huge numbers of recordings available for plunder.
The use of obscure source material is one of the many ironies of Hatto’s critical success. Most great pianists--Cortot, Horowitz, Gould, for example--have an unmistakable interpretive signature: you can tell who’s playing within seconds. Their touch, tone, attack, pedalling, rubato--their whole conception of sound is unique. Of necessity, Hatto had to use performers who would not be easily recognised, humble, egoless servants of the text. These pianists, many of whom had toiled in obscurity, were now praised in their Hattoised incarnations for their “essential musical humility”, as Andrew McGregor characterised Hatto’s pianism on BBC Radio 3. Or as Frank Seibert expressed it in the German magazine Fono Forum in June 2004: “the piano art of Joyce Hatto stands in contrast to today’s ostentatious music business to which her playing today is a corrective. She makes music without imposed superlatives.” It was a notion that Hatto reinforced in interviews: “Play what the composer has taken so much trouble to write down€¦As interpreters, we are not important, we are just vehicles.”
But as the Hatto bandwagon gathered pace, a murmur of dissent could be heard in internet chatrooms. “There is not one facet of her playing that is outstanding,” wrote one listener. “She is just a very good pianist and no more.” “I have noticed something eerie,” noted another, under the alias “Dr Seth Horus”. “The pianist playing the Mozart sonatas cannot be the pianist playing Prokofiev or the pianist playing Albéniz. I have the distinct feeling of being the victim of some sort of hoax. Does anyone else share these feelings?”
One person who did was a 43-year-old pianophile from Berlin, called Peter Lemken. He had noticed that Hatto’s concerto recordings were made with the improbably named “National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra” conducted by René KÜhler. Lemken could not find any background information on the conductor. “I was surprised, because I have worked with a number of conductors and the most obscure recordings are listed by them somewhere,” he told me. Lemken mentioned this on an internet newsgroup and two days later a biography of René KÜhler appeared on Music Web--one of the online retailers for Concert Artists. The information, which had been supplied by Barrington-Coupe, ran as follows:
“Brought up in Weimar, René was a pupil of Raoul Koczalski (1884-1948) (via his teacher Mikuli a direct descendant by tutelage of Chopin)€¦ In 1936, he briefly continued studying music at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow.... In 1940 his left hand was crushed irreparably by a young German “officer”, so-called. In the summer of 1942 he was deported to Treblinka. Here--one of less than a hundred believed to have survived, he was found by the advancing Red Army (circa 1944). Unimpressed by his mixture of Polish-French and German-Jewish stock, his Soviet interrogator sent him on a train heading East for a labour camp--where he remained from 1945-70. René kept such things to himself...He never desired any attention from the media. Physically, he was a mess€¦He died from prostate cancer”.
Lemken contacted the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and was told that no one called René KÜhler had ever studied there. In February 2006 he told the newsgroup that he thought KÜhler had never existed.
Over the next few months the rumours proliferated. One theory was that a group of unknown musicians was pulling a trick on the critics, pooling their varied abilities under the name of Hatto. James Inverne, editor of Gramophone magazine, was contacted by two critics who wished to remain anonymous, to warn him off this story. Jeremy Nicholas, who had staked his reputation on Hatto, now decided that enough was enough. In June 2006, in an open challenge published in Gramophone he called for anyone with evidence that “must stand up in a court of law” to come forward and prove the alleged fakery. Nobody did.
We will never know if Hatto was aware of this cloud of suspicion or whether she had any inkling of the disgrace that was soon to follow. On June 29th she died. Obituaries across the word hailed her achievement. Hatto had entered the canon of Great Pianists. Until iTunes dislodged her.
William Barrington-Coupe is a sprightly 76-year-old with a glint in his small, inscrutable eyes. When I visited him in his modern, detached house in Royston more than three months after the story broke, he began by ushering me into the music room where Joyce had died just under a year ago. Dominated by a mahogany concert grand Steinway, the room was dark and chilly; piles of piano music lay strewn about. There were two china cats, a squirrel and a rabbit. Crippled by deep-vein thrombosis, Barrington-Coupe explained, Joyce had slept on a hospital bed a few feet from the piano. Each morning he used to help her on to the piano stool and she would play the last movement of Chopin’s “Funeral March” sonata, a maelstrom of virtuosity. She had played it on the day of her death, at about 8.00 in the morning.
It was hard to know quite what to make of this story, but it was typical of the man. After Gramophone published the damning evidence of fraud on February 15th, he initially insisted his wife’s recordings were genuine. Then two weeks later, in a letter to Robert von Bahr of BIS records, from whom he had purloined Laszlo Simon’s recording of the Liszt “Transcendental Studies”, he made an astonishing confession. He claimed to have embarked on the deception because his wife’s recording sessions were marred by little gasps of pain and he was at a loss to know how to cover the interruption. He wanted to give her the illusion of a great end to a career that had, as he saw it, been unfairly overlooked. “My wife was completely unaware I did this,” he had claimed, “and I simply let her hear the finished editing that she thought was completely her own work.”
It was a touching story, but Barrington-Coupe’s past hardly lent it credibility. In the 1960s he had released records by artists under a variety of pseudonyms for the Delta, Summit and Lyrique labels. The conductors Felix Heiss, Otto Strauss and Wilhelm Havagesse (“have a guess”); pianists, August du Maurier and Marius Ubendorff and the soprano Herda Wobbel were some of the pseudonyms Barrington-Coupe concocted for recordings that were believed to have been copied from radio broadcasts from behind the Iron Curtain. After the collapse of Triumph Records in 1962, Barrington-Coupe began importing radios from Hong Kong for sale in London markets and by mail order. On May 17th 1966, along with four co-defendants, he was found guilty of failing to pay £84,000 in purchase tax and sent to prison for a year. Summing up, Judge Alan King-Hamilton said: “I think it is a thousand pities that not one of you had the good sense to plead guilty. These were blatant and impertinent frauds, carried out in my opinion rather clumsily.”
Sitting in his house in Royston, I asked Barrington-Coupe about the Hatto recordings. I was surprised that he made no reference to his wife’s gasps of pain. “I’m not saying I haven’t tinkered,” he told me over coffee and biscuits. “I had to. Sometimes there were electrical problems€¦I don’t think I changed anything from her actual performances. I’ve matched everything in, there hasn’t been vast jiggery-pokery. The performances are really pretty well as is. If it goes to court I shan’t waver on it. I know what I did, and I know that whatever Mr Rose says, and whatever his wretched graphs show, that they must be wrong.”
Barrington-Coupe’s problem is that Rose’s wretched graphs are accurate to 44,100 samples a second. They show no sign of patching: only evidence of wholesale theft. Using the cheap technology that made the crime possible, an international team of pianophiles is hunting down the sources of every single Hatto CD and the full scope of the deception is now clear for all to see--Farhanmalik.com contains up-to-date details of the authentications.
Nevertheless, Barrington-Coupe may well escape prosecution. “Given the circumstances surrounding Hatto’s sickness and fate,” Robert von Bahr declared on his website in February this year, “there may be deeply felt€“if misguided--personal reasons for it€¦I’m not moved to seek revenge.” He added that it would be tricky to prove financial loss for the Laszlo Simon recordings and, in any case, he was not convinced that Barrington-Coupe had made much money from the fraud.
Hatto’s role in deciding which recordings to steal may never be known. I suspect she was an active accomplice. On the way up to Royston I had listened to an interview she gave to New Zealand radio in April 2006, two months before she died. It’s the one surviving interview and it was a revelation. With her rapid, high-pitched voice and tendency to break into a manic giggle, she sounded delightful.
After a few hours in the company of Barrington-Coupe, who was often convulsed with laughter, it was easy to imagine them listening to recordings together and picking out ones they liked almost in a spirit of levity. As the day wore on and we listened to one CD after another of recordings that Barrington-Coupe didn’t realise had been identified, I sensed how bereft of company he now felt after 50 years of marriage.
“We just loved each other,” he said. “There was a definite kind of telepathy between us. She used to say: ‘it wasn’t what I’ve got; it wasn’t what you’ve got: it’s what we’ve got’.” Together, they shared a deep knowledge of piano performance. In so far as the deception involved splicing together different recordings with musically satisfying results, it was a genuinely creative enterprise. Quite possibly, the fraud started as a game that took on a life of its own and brought an isolated, childless couple into contact with a world of critics and collectors who could be simultaneously befriended and mocked for their gullibility. “I don’t think you’ll find me gumming up the motorway with these”, Joyce Hatto wrote to the critic Christopher Howell, about her purloined (and outrageously speeded up) performances of the “Transcendental Etudes”. It’s tempting to conclude that the mockery of a musical and critical establishment that had shunned them both must have been one of the fraud’s most satisfying results.
When I suggested this to Barrington-Coupe, he for once looked me directly in the eye. “That’s what I intended to do. That’s what I intended to do. And that’s what she intended to do€¦But she intended to do it with her own playing,” he added ruefully.
Of all the critics to have been fooled by Hatto none was more eminent than Bryce Morrison, a celebrated teacher, writer and broadcaster. An elegant stylist, with an encyclopedic knowledge of piano performance, Morrison has distilled the elusive genius of the great pianists in memorable prose. After Hatto died, Morrison was frequently visited by Barrington-Coupe, who bore handfuls of CDs and gifts of homemade jam. “Doubting Thomases, of which there are apparently many, may well wonder how Joyce Hatto achieved such unalloyed mastery and musicianship when tragically beset by ill health,” Morrison wrote in a series of reviews designed to mark her achievement. “But others will surely celebrate an awe-inspiring triumph of mind over matter, of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.” In Liszt, “her warmth, affection, ease and humanity strike you at every turn”; in Messiaen, he lauded “her very recognisable strength of character and personality”; in Mozart “Hatto trumps all the aces€¦above all, her warmth and humanity shine through page after page.”
I was curious to know how Morrison looked back on this catalogue of error and asked him if felt he should have known better. “No, I don’t,” he told me. “I entirely disagree. I’d tell you if I did. I don’t see any reason why I should know better. I’m not a cynic. I’m not. I had no evidence at the time it wasn’t genuine. I think you are as a critic as objective as possible: thank God one’s a human being. You are influenced by story. By someone’s appearance. But if you’re suggesting I was having my arm twisted by an extra-mural agenda, it is not true at all. I believe one has got to have a very strong sense of human empathy.”
Yet Morrison’s empathy for Hatto had surely warped his critical judgment. Several years ago his verdict on Yefim Bronfman’s recording of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto was that “the pianist operates at too low a voltage, he lacks the sort of angst and urgency which has endeared Rachmaninov to millions.” Reviewing the same recording in its Hatto incarnation--it was one of the few that had not been tampered with--he declared it “among the finest on record€¦above all, everything is vitally alive and freshly considered.” He went on to praise the soloist’s “clarity and verve that will astonish even this concerto’s most seasoned listeners.”
But which of these verdicts was the more credible? I wanted an answer to a question that had fascinated me from the outset: were the performers he chose a collection of brilliant, overlooked artists? If so, Barrington-Coupe had perhaps performed a valuable service to listeners, however perversely, as an impresario of under-recognised talent.
The collectors I spoke to did not see it that way. Caine Alder, a 73-year-old retired piano teacher from Salt Lake City, bought the entire Hatto discography. After the scandal broke he got rid of the lot. “There’s no doubt that who you have pictured in your mind when you’re listening is a big factor,” he said. “I can hear about five notes played by Horowitz and I know who it is. Rubinstein has his own personality. So this is a big part of my listening. So suddenly I have a hundred CDs and I don’t know who the hell’s playing them. It’s a mish-mash.”
Alder has touched on something fundamental to our appreciation of performances. Do you experience “King Lear”, or Robert Stephens’or Paul Schofield’s Lear? It is a paradox that these masterpieces come mostly vividly to life bent through the prism of an almighty interpretative ego. And therein lies the trap. Although our knowledge of the performer enhances our aesthetic experience, it inevitably distorts our critical judgment.
Neil Raymond also bought almost the entire collection of Hatto recordings. A venture capitalist from Montreal, he owns one of the largest private collections of classical CDs in the world. Raymond sees things differently from Alder. “One of the feelings I have is kind of personal self-condemnation,” he said. “So much of my reaction was based on a rooting interest in Joyce Hatto as an artist, her illness, the human-interest side of it. I, no less than the critics, had turned it into an artistic determination.”
Raymond’s self-criticism was crystallised by the discovery that he already owned many of the Hatto recordings. “I find many of the discs that I responded to very uninspired in their original form. They’re fairly middling, unimpressive performances,” he continued. “One can’t help but extrapolate from that recognition to how many other listening experiences one has bought the same lack of critical aptitude to the table.”
That discovery has changed how Raymond listens to music, whoever is performing. He used to idolise Furtwangler’s recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “Now I hear the slow movement and I hear slovenly, disreputable playing.” Was this realisation a good thing? “I think it will make me a more astute, acute and sophisticated listener,” he replied after a long pause. “But it’s not a pleasant self-recognition.”
ONLINE POSTSCRIPT, September 4th: Could Joyce Hatto's "recordings" somehow have been better than the purloined originals? Rod Williams adds a further twist to his tale ...
The Hatto affair raises a number of intriguing aesthetic questions. If Hatto was considered “one of the greatest pianists no-one has ever heard of” (as Richard Dyer said in the Boston Globe), does this mean that 66 largely-obscure pianists who provided her material deserve the same accolade? Or did the magic spell of these recordings vanish when Hatto was revealed as a fraud? And were Mr Barrington-Coupe’s doctored recordings actually an improvement on the original versions?
With a few exceptions, the 66 pianists identified so far are an obscure collection. Of necessity, Mr Barrington-Coupe had to steal from artists who would not easily be recognised: humble, egoless servants of the text. It would have been difficult to plagiarise recordings by Mikhael Pletnev, Ivo Pogorelich or Lang Lang, for example, pianists whose very personal approach to interpretation is immediately recognisable.
The irony is that Hatto drew praise for her "essential musical humility"--as Andrew Macgregor said on BBC 3. Or as Frank Siebert expressed it in a review for a German magazine, Fono Forum: “The piano art of Joyce Hatto stands in contrast to today’s ostentatious music business to which her playing is a corrective. She makes music without imposed superlatives”.
Perhaps this very absence of ego is why so many of the ripped-off pianists are not better known. Certainly, many of them are notable for just one or two excellent CDs. Recordings widely acclaimed by piano cognoscenti include "Nojima Plays Liszt" (Minoru Nojima, 1993, Reference Recordings); Arthur Moreira Lima’s "Chopin Waltzes" (Pro Arte 177); and Sergei Babayan’s "Scarlatti Sonatas" (Pro Piano records).
But many of the ripped-off recordings, deprived of the halo effect of Hatto’s tragically uplifting story, now seem rather less impressive. According to Gregor Benko, co-founder of the International Piano Archives in Maryland: “A few of the pirated performances were excellent or superior. Most of them, the majority of them, however, were middle of the road, chrome-plated conservatory graduate style delineations of the text, without much interpretation, personality or musical soul”.
It turns out that some of the most widely acclaimed Hatto performances were lifted from several sources and spliced together by Mr Barrington-Coupe. An American collector and pianophile, Farhan Malik, has spent months deconstructing the forgeries. “In some cases the speeding up really does improve a performance”, he tells me. “I will give you an example: the Chopin Godowsky "Fourth Etude". That’s Carlo Grante. It’s really much better than the original Carlo Grante. Carlo Grante has to slow down for the middle section because it’s more difficult. But Joyce Hatto doesn’t.” Likewise, Alexander Ghindin’s recording of the Mendelssohn Rachmaninoff Scherzo from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been sped up by 4.23%. “The Hatto really is much more impressive”.
Mr Malik has the greatest admiration for Hatto’s "Brahms Paganini Variations". All but eight of the variations are lifted from Lilya Zilberstein on Deutsche Gramophone--an excellent recording in its own right. Mr Barrington-Coupe has taken six variations from Matti Raekallio on Ondine, and two variations from Evgeny Kissin on BMG. “These substitutions are in all cases an improvement over Zilberstein in those variations," says Mr Malik, "Hatto has basically removed much of the unevenness and created a superb rendition”.
Mr Malik considers this hybrid performance “a masterpiece”. When I told William Barrington-Coupe about this verdict he seemed pleased. He told me he was sure that people would still be listening to the Hatto "Brahms Paganini Variations" in 50 years time.