Joyce Hatto was celebrated as a brilliant pianist in her day. After her death this past June, an enormous compilation of her recordings was put out for her fans. There were CDs that no one knew had existed earlier, as if some stash of undiscovered music had been found behind the old box of corn starch up there at the top of the press, all the way back tucked in a corner.
Ms. Hatto had been ill for years before she passed away, and had not performed in concert since the 1970's. Labelled by the Guardian as one of Britain's greatest pianists, the release of so much unknown recordings, brilliant pieces, turned her into an even bigger star after her death. Up in the heavens, outshining the moon, her legacy burned bright, her name listed among the greats of piano players for all time.
Or so one might think. Apple's iTunes blew the whole thing away.
The Liszt CD that iTunes credited to Laszlo Simon was said to be a recording by Ms. Hatto, but who figured that one out is left to the music accredidation police. Gramophone magazine got involved, and they claimed that 119 CDs that were supposedly made by Ms. Hatto were identical to CDs made by other pianists. To further examine the recordings, Pristine Audio carried out some technical tests and concluded that iTunes had it right, the Liszt piece was a Laszlo Simon performance. And there was another by Philip Martin, identical to one labelled a Hatto finger plonking. There were many more, famous artists and obscure artists, all identical to the recordings purported to be newly discovered Joyce Hatto performances.
BBC Radio played Beethoven's Sonata in E, Opus 109 on Saturday. On one channel, they ran the Hatto CD, and played Irish pianist John O'Conor's recording on the other channel. The two CDs were completely identical. Granted, they were playing the same notes, but each pianist brings their own interpretation of the music. If they were different CDs, there would be some slight differences in timing, in emphasis, but there was none.
Ms. Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe, runs the independent label that put out the posthumous CD collection. Needless to say, he has pulled all of her recordings. Also needless to say is that Mr. Barrington-Coupe is standing over his claim that the late Joyce Hatto was one of Britain's greatest pianists.
Perhaps she was one of the best, but her once stellar legacy is now tarnished by a well-meaning husband who wanted to promote his dear wife's accomplishments and unmatched skills after her death. That, truly, is a grand gesture of love.