I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

Music critics trash and praise the same record released under different names

Earlier I wrote about one interesting experiment. Researchers told the participants that they are going to play two variations of the same theme by two composers. They declared that musical critics say that the first variation is a masterpiece, while the second is an imitation totally deficient in beauty. They said that the aim of the experiment is to see whether laymen agree with the experts. Afterward experimenters played the same record twice. The majority of the laymen agreed with the experts. Remarkably, there is a documented case when the very experts whose job is to teach laymen which music to like had themselves prefer a musical record to itself.

A 2007 scandal revealed that recordings, released under the name Joyce Hatto, were rip-offs of the recordings by other pianists. Interestingly it turned out that two critics trashed the CDs when they came out under the true names and then praised them as Hatto fakes. Musicologist Farhan Malik exposed them in his post in Pianophiles Yahoo newsgroup [1]. Unfortunately this discovery did not get as much attention as, I think, it should have. So it is worthwhile to write about it again.

The Rachmaninoff 3rd Concertos of Hatto is a rip-off of the performance by Yefim Bronfman [1]. The reviewer for Gramophone, Bryce Morrison, gave the two CDs the following reviews:

Bronfman’s reading … operates at too low a voltage ... he lacks the sort of angst or urgency that has endeared Rachmaninov to millions ...I think you'll agree that this is hardly a case of how 'great things are done when men and mountains meet' [2]

Joyce Hatto performance of the Third Concerto … [is] … among the finest on record ... opening theme is given with a special sense of its Slavic melancholy ... Above all, everything is vitally alive and freshly considered. Quite without preening gestures or mannerism this is also never the Third Concerto as we have always known it. The massive alternative cadenza is given with a stunning breadth and command, and in the Intermezzo’s skittering scherzando figuration you can hear volleys of notes thrown off with a clarity and verve that will astonish even this concerto's most seasoned listeners. Yet the concentration is always on purely musical values, reminding you at every point of qualities above and beyond mere flamboyance. [3]

Many of the Hatto Chopin Etudes (including Op.10 Nos. 1, 3, 4 (C♯ minor), 5 (Black Key), and 10) are rip-offs of Yuki Matsuzawa's performances [1]. Tom Deacon, the producer of Philips Great Pianists of the 20th Century series, produced the following evaluations:

Matsuzawa: Faceless, typewriter, neat as a pin but utterly flaccid performances with small, tiny poetic gestures added like so much rouge on the face of a Russian doll. … Nothing could possibly equal the faceless, spineless, ever-so-tasteful performances of Ms. Matsuzawa. She is the very model of Lily Tomlin's much admired tasteful lady. [4]

Hatto: My oh my, this is a beautiful recording of Chopin's music. The pieces flow so naturally and so completely without precious effects that you might, for a moment, think that there are no other ways of reading the music. … In Op. 10 No. 1 the right hand is fluent, flawless, clear as a bell, but the real story is the LH, which carries the interest of the piece anyway. The central episode in No. 3 is dramatic, but the drama doesn't overwhelm the A section, either the first or second time round. The C♯ minor, a knucklebuster if ever there was one, is played as a true Presto, but punctuated with all kinds of wondrous LH details. The first black key etude has fluttering RH detail, but again, it is the LH which is truly eloquent. …The A flat major, Op. 10 No. 10, restores all of Chopin's carefully notated differenciation between one section and another, a veritable study in the ability to vary detached sounds.[5]

We see that famous label’s great something series can be not a product of careful selection based on sound judgment, but a capricious choice of a man so whimsical as to praise and trash the same record published under different names. The same is true for the reviews by respected critics published in authoritative magazines. Since great musicians are made such by these producers and critics we may suspect that great musicians’ greatness is not an intrinsic property of their music. In a recent article I wrote about famous musicians, who posed as street musicians and failed to get attention from the public. To check if you can tell famous musicians from unknown ones based solely on their music try this test.

Mikhail Simkin
May 26, 2014


  1. Farhan Malik, “Critics and Hatto,” A post in Yahoo Pianophiles newsgroup on June 5, 2007.
  2. Bryce Morrison, Gramophone, September 1992, p. 83
  3. Bryce Morrison, Gramophone, February 2007, p. 66
  4. Tom Deacon , “Matsuzawa, indeed! Quelle horreur!” Posts in Google rec.music.classical newsgroup on June 23 and 24, 2005.
  5. Tom Deacon , “Chopin Etudes: Joyce Hatto redux,” A post in Google rec.music.classical newsgroup on June 27, 2005.

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