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Looking for scandal but finding something much better

This morning Alex Ross posted a short summary of the Hattogate scandal with links to some key sites that get to the heart of the matter. The one I found interesting enough to follow up is to Pristine Classical’s Hatto Hoax page. Andrew Rose, the engineer who runs the site, specializes in audio restoration—and it seems that he was instrumental in showing that a hoax had been perpetrated in the first place. The evidence that he produces on his site is quite convincing, I’d say. Another blog that has reasonably succinct, intelligent coverage of Hattogate is Jessica Duchen’s, and this post from On An Overgrown Path shows in stark, graphical terms how much more interested we all seem to be in scandal than anything else.

But that’s now why I’m writing.

A much more heartening item on the Pristine Audio web site is a restored recording of Alfred Cortot and Jacques Thibaud playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. The entire recording can be downloaded for free “for a limited time” (doesn’t seem to say how limited). When that offer expires you can go here to buy it. It’s a wonderful, luminous performance, beautifully restored and remastered. It brings to mind a book I read a few months ago about the effect recordings have had on classical performance—Performing Music in the Age of Recording, by Robert Philip. The author’s main point is that, through the experience of their own recordings, classical performers became more self-consciously perfectionist over the course of the 20th century. An interesting and readable book, though written as if from a parallel universe in which nothing but classical music was ever recording, which struck me as almost surreal. Features of early 20th-century classical recordings documented in the book are looser ensemble playing, more mistakes, more exaggerated rubato, pianists letting left and right hands get out of sync, and from the strings lots of portamenti but little vibrato. The playing was sometimes just plain sloppy, it seems, though clearly that isn’t the case on this Thibaud-Cortot recording. The lack of vibrato in Thibaud’s playing is striking, though.