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This won't help the pianist's cause

February 25, 2007|Chris Pasles

LITTLE-KNOWN British pianist Joyce Hatto, who died last year at 77, may be the Milli Vanilli of the classical world. A favorite of a handful of connoisseurs, she was lauded at her death as "one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced." Her reputation was based mostly on recordings she made during the last decades of her life, after cancer forced her off the stage in the mid-1970s. Initially accepted at face value, at least some of those more than 100 discs, spanning all the great works in the repertory, from Scarlatti to Messiaen, now appear to have been plagiarized.

Published on her own small label, Concert Artist, run by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, the discs have Hatto performing with "the National Philharmonic Symphony" conducted by the otherwise unknown Rene Kohler, reportedly a survivor of the Holocaust. But when Jed Distler, a writer for the British magazine Gramophone, which had long championed the pianist's recordings, put a Hatto Liszt CD into his computer this month, the player identified the pianist as Laszlo Simon. When the puzzled Distler checked the disc against a Simon recording of the same music, he found that the two sounded the same.

He tried a Hatto Rachmaninoff CD, and the computer identified it as Yefim Bronfman and the L. A. Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen.

An expert for British-based Pristine Audio compared the sound waves of Hatto's and Simon's Liszt recordings and found they matched exactly. More revelations followed, including manipulation of tempos on a disc by yet a third pianist.

Contacted by Gramophone, Barrington-Coupe said he couldn't explain the similarities. For the very latest on the story, visit and For Hatto recordings, go to


-- Chris Pasles

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