Dinu Lipatti: The Chopin Concerto Scandal

lipatti seraphimIn 1966, EMI issued a previously unknown recording of Chopin’s Piano Concerto #1 in E Minor featuring the pianist Dinu Lipatti. No orchestra or conductor was named. On the record jacket of the British release of the recording in 1971 was the following statement:

“This recording includes a performance by Dinu Lipatti of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. It comes from a tape, which EMI acquired, made at a concert in Switzerland in May, 1948. Although there is no question that the performance is by Dinu Lipatti, extensive enquiries have failed to establish the name of the conductor and orchestra. However, this particular performance has not been published in the UK before now and is therefore a musical document of rare value.”

When EMI reissued the recording in 1981, the BBC broadcast the record, and a listener wrote in noting its similarity with a Supraphon recording dating from the early 1950s featuring the distinguished Chopin pianist Halina Czerny-Stefanska. Tests by BBC and EMI revealed that the two recordings were identical.

When the news broke, Dr. Marc Gertsch of Bern presented a tape to EMI of an authentic live Lipatti performance from a radio broadcast of a Zurich concert given February 7, 1950, featuring the Zurich-Tonhalle Orchestra conducted by Otto Ackermann. The tape formed the basis of a new LP and all previous pressings of the erroneously-attributed recording were withdrawn worldwide.

The behind-the-scenes situations leading up to the release of the Czerny-Stefanska recording are as follows.

In 1960, Walter Legge was approached by one Mr. Kaspar of Zurich, who owned a tape of the Lipatti/Ackermann performance of the Chopin Concerto in excellent sound. EMI expressed an interest in issuing the recording, but according to Legge, Kaspar vanished with the tape when copyright inquiries were made as to who the copyright owner was.

Shortly afterwards, another collector presented another tape of the Chopin Concerto to Madeleine Lipatti. EMI has said that while there were no detailed indications as to the origin of the tape, Madeleine, Legge, and Ansermet agreed that Lipatti was the pianist. EMI made inquiries into the identities of the orchestra (it was thought it might be the Concertgebouw or La Scala), but to no avail. The situation was exasperating to Walter Legge and Madeleine Lipatti. Madeleine wrote to Legge (in French) on October 17, 1963:

“I think that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the references to its origin. The person who sold this tape to the man in Basel said that it consisted of a recording made by Dinu Lipatti with the Warsaw Orchestra with a conductor named Mawricki – but Dinu never played with these people! It is obviously a vicious lie… We are certain that Dinu played this Chopin Concerto only in Zurich since magnetos were invented! We can have no doubt.”

Madeleine’s identification of a purported conductor and orchestra runs counter to EMI’s story that the origin of the tape was unclear. In Legge’s reply of October 23, he says:

“If as you say Dinu only played the Chopin Concerto in Zurich after the invention of the magneto, there must have been two performances or a rehearsal and a performance, because in the one tape I have heard there are audience noises and in the other there is absolute silence.”

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