Joyce Hatto

Written by: Colin Anderson

The news that something is amiss with some, possibly all, of the many CDs issued on the Concert Artist label that feature pianist Joyce Hatto has not come as a surprise to those of us who ‘smelt a rat’ early on.

My regret, now, is that I did not pursue this matter.

A friend had played one of the Concert Artist CDs to me; he was suspicious, but couldn’t put his finger on why. The disc in question consisted of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos 1 & 4 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I do not have that release to hand; but its documentation and sound stay in the memory. One of the concertos claimed to be recorded in the Colosseum in Watford (oft-used for recording purposes); the sound to be heard simply didn’t equate with that venue. Furthermore the Polish orchestra credited gave every indication of being British in terms of playing style. A London-musician pick-up ensemble maybe? The conductor, name now forgotten and not known at the time, read as a pseudonym. If I recall correctly a second ‘unknown’ conductor was also credited, as was St Mark’s in Croydon, which is not often used (if it exists!) as a recording location! And the recordings themselves, more analogue than digital, and seeming to be at least twenty years older than the 1990s’ dates given, wasn’t good and, anyway, seemed ‘odd’.

Aware of Hatto’s serious illness, some suspicion of double-dealing certainly came to mind; not though that the recordings could be somebody else’s (!) but that it was Hatto playing and that her execution had somehow been manipulated to show her in the best possible light. There was something inhuman about the pianist’s response – the product of a synthesiser (or other wizardry technology) that was maybe at the disposal of Hatto to ‘direct’. (Apologies to the actual pianist should this recording be identified as an existing and ‘stolen’ one for my charges of being “inhuman”, but my reaction was based on the sound heard that conflicted with the information given, and the doubt that the, sadly, very ill Hatto could have given performances as strong and as virile as reproduced on the CD – but, really, the ‘something ‘doctored’ sound-quality was the cue for me to have doubts and also to be under-whelmed by the music-making. (Apart from having a Polish band flitting between outside-London locations making records!)

One also raised doubts as to whether, under the circumstances, Hatto could have undertaken the huge task of recording a vast amount of very demanding repertoire. If this proves to be a complete scam and all the CDs claiming to be Hatto’s work (the series devised by her husband, it seems) are in fact existing recordings that have been ‘borrowed’ then one assumes that the lady herself, alive when the (90 or so?) discs were issued, was also in on the deception.

Good that this has now come to the surface. My reaction to that one disc was a lack of enthusiasm to listen to other releases as there seemed be a cover-up to enhance Hatto – but I didn’t think of other musicians’ recordings being used; more that the recordings had been made much earlier in her career or that some cosmetic surgery was ensuring that Hatto could sign-off with a really notable final flourish.

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