“A Strange Story” – Joyce Hatto, fakes, and “expertise”

Joyce Hatto, a pianist who died in 2006, was celebrated by many allegedly knowledgable music critics in the last few years of her life for “a discography that in quantity, musical range and consistent quality has been equalled by few pianists in history.”
A preliminary investigation now reveals that many of Hatto’s recordings were copies, some slightly altered, of other pianists’ recordings. SeeJoyce Hatto – The Ultimate Recording Hoax – Part 1,” Pristine Classical, which concludes: “We have yet to investigate a Hatto recording that has not proved to be a hoax.”

Andrew Rose, who runs the remastering firm Pristine Audio and who analysed the Hatto recordings, said: “There are a lot of critics and publications with egg on their faces.”

Pianist’s virtuosity is called into question,” by Martin Beckford, Telegraph.co.uk, February 18, 2007

It was already one of the strangest stories the classical music world had witnessed. But the discovery of the late English pianist Joyce Hatto as the greatest instrumentalist almost nobody had heard of, appears to have taken a bizarre, even potentially sinister turn.
. . .
But at the same time as the cult of Hatto was burgeoning, there were persistent rumours on the internet as to the true origins of the recordings. How, wondered the doubters, could one woman — especially one who had battled cancer for many years — have mastered a range of repertoire and recorded a catalogue that arguably makes her more prolific than even the Richters and the Ashkenazys.

However, Gramophone critic Jeremy Nicholas published a letter in the magazine asking anyone who had any evidence of any wrong-doing to come forth. Nobody did, and the matter rested. Until now.

Masterpieces Or Fakes? The Joyce Hatto Scandal,” Gramaphone, February 15, 2007

Joyce Hatto, who has died aged 77, was one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced. Before the appearance of press and internet articles earlier this year, it was widely assumed that she had left us some years ago. In a sense she had: from the early 1970s she suffered from a cancer that not only made her the longest surviving patient treated by Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, but also prevented her from appearing in public for the past 30 years.

Her legacy is a discography that in quantity, musical range and consistent quality has been equalled by few pianists in history.

Obituary: Joyce Hatto: Brilliant pianist whose career was cut short by cancer which struck in the 1970s, by Jeremy Nicholas, The Guardian, July 10, 2006

Yet some things remain totally obscure in this story. Even the recourse to irony does not explain convincingly why Joyce Hatto and her husband decided to issue these recordings. Another strange thing is the pattern, if any, of the altered recordings. Among the recordings that have been altered, there are two by widely known soloists and orchestras, the Rachmaninov concerto under Esa-Pekka Salonen and Yefim Bronfman (on a Sony Classical CD), and the Brahms concerto under Haitink and Ashkenazy (on a Decca CD). However, three other recordings that have been identified are by lesser-known soloists for smaller labels, such as Laszlo Simon for BIS, Carlo Grante for Altarus or Eugen Indjic for Claves. More interesting that discovering what motivated the entire enterprise would be perhaps to understand why the “producer” and the “performer” in Concert Artist’s recordings used specifically these recordings. A reason perhaps is that, in the randomness of these choices, Hatto and her husband thought their mischief would be less perceptible.

However, it is possible that the couple also wanted to disclose, albeit in a rather subtle way, their hoax. All of Hatto’s recordings with an orchestra, except for a few from her early years (and I suppose these were actually made by her), were made with a certain “National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra” under the baton of “René Köhler.” It should be evident that such a name for an orchestra is just a concoction of the terms that are more commonly used when naming ensembles: “national,” “symphony,” “philharmonic.” But “Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra” is almost a redundancy (one might claim that “philharmonic” and “symphony” are synonims, but there is a subtle difference between the terms). Furthermore, Maestro Köhler hasn’t recorded anything else, at least not classical music. René Köhler (yes, with the same diacritics, by the way) even has a website, but he seems to be a singer and songwriter from somewhere in Scandinavia. We can’t help wishing him the best of luck in his new musical ventures.

A Strange Story,” by Hipermnésia Hipnagógica, February 16, 2007