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Husband admits passing off other pianists’ recordings as wife’s work

LONDON — British pianist Joyce Hatto, hailed after her death as a neglected genius, owed her reputation to performances stolen from other artists, her husband has admitted, saying he was desperate to have her life end ‘‘on a high note.’’
    ‘‘It is self-evident that I have acted stupidly, dishonestly and unlawfully,’’ William Barrington-Coupe wrote in a letter acknowledging the fraudulent recordings, which he said he produced without his wife’s knowledge while she was dying of ovarian cancer.
    ‘‘I was desperate to finish her life, which had been disappointing in so many ways, on a high note,’’ Barrington-Coupe wrote.
    Hatto ceased to play in public in 1975, achieving only a modest reputation and collecting mixed reviews. But after she died last year at age 77, obituaries hailed her as a keyboard prodigy who left a brilliant legacy in more than 100 CDs produced by her husband on his Concert Artists label.
    ‘‘A singular artist of superlative technique and interpretation,’’ said The Times. ‘‘One of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced,’’ wrote The Guardian.
    That reputation collapsed after Gramophone, a British music magazine, reported earlier this month that at least one Hatto CD recording, Franz Liszt’s ‘‘Transcendental Etudes,’’ was actually a release by pianist Laszlo Simon.
    The deception was uncovered when a classical music fan’s iTunes computer library identified the Hatto recording as Simon’s. The fan contacted one of Gramophone’s critics, who listened to both recordings and discovered they were identical, the magazine said.
    In a letter to Robert von Bahr, chief executive officer of Sweden’s BIS Records, which released Simon’s recording, Barrington-Coupe acknowledged the theft.
    ‘‘Of course I deeply regret it. The damage has been enormous, and frightful things have been resurrected and insinuated in the press,’’ Barrington-Coupe wrote.
    ‘‘The sad thing about all this is that my wife was a fine musician and probably the most finished pianist I had ever heard.’’
    In the letter, Barrington-Coupe said his wife was suffering from advanced ovarian cancer by the time he was able to produce CDs, and her grunts of pain marred recording sessions.
    So, he said, he searched for pianists of a similar sound and style to patch over his wife’s recordings.
    Over time, the letter said, he took bigger and bigger pieces of other recordings, and learned how to manipulate speed to disguise the source.
    The deception unraveled when the Gramophone reader put the ‘‘Hatto’’ recording of ‘‘Transcendental Etudes’’ on his computer, and the iTunes software, which catalogues about 4 million albums based on the tracks’ lengths, identified the recording as Simon’s.
    Then a ‘‘Hatto’’ recording of Rachmaninoff piano concertos was identified as one by Yefim Bronfman on Sony, Gramophone said.
    After that, Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio found that a ‘‘Hatto’’ recording of music by Leopold Godowsky was actually one of Carlo Grante on Altarus, but slowed down by 15 percent.
    The Associated Press could not immediately reach Barrington-Coupe, whose telephone number is unlisted. However, Bahr, speaking in Stockholm, said Barrington-Coupe had acknowledged the deception, ‘‘because I was the only one that confronted him in a respectful way.’’
    ‘‘We’ve had a letter correspondence because he has also stolen music from me,’’ Bahr said, adding that Barrington-Coupe asked him not to release the entire letter, though he read portions to a reporter.
    Gramophone reported Barrington-Coupe’s letter to BIS on Monday, saying on its Web site that it had confirmed the contents with him.
    Irish pianist John O’Conor, whose recording of Beethoven’s Sonata in E allegedly reappeared with Hatto’s name in 1999, said he was flattered that anyone remembered his version. But he was puzzled by the late flowering of Hatto’s reputation.
    ‘‘You had the media calling her the ‘greatest’ this and ‘most prolific’ that — and people in the industry kept on saying: ’Who?’ She hadn’t been heard of for 30 years,’’ O’Conor said.
    BPI, the British recording trade organization, said it was investigating.
    ‘‘If the stories flying around these recordings proved to be true, this would be one of the most extraordinary cases of piracy the record industry had ever seen,’’ BPI said in a statement.
    Bahr, however, said he had no intention of pursuing Barrington-Coupe.
    ‘‘The guy is 76, he has a heart condition — well, he says he has a heart condition — and I can’t see what, apart from revenge, it would give anyone,’’ he said.
    Gramophone appealed for Barrington-Coupe to provide a full accounting of which recordings, if any, were actually by his wife.
    However, it quoted Barrington-Coupe as saying: ‘‘I’m tired, I’m not very well. I’ve closed the operation down, I’ve had the stock completely destroyed, and I’m not producing any more. Now I just want a little bit of peace.’’
    ———
    On the Net:
    Gramophone, http://www.gramophone.co.uk/
    Pristine Audio, http://www.pristineclassical.com/HattoHoax.html
    Concert Artists records, http://concertartistrecordings.com

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