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 Recording of the Week  Do today's musicians all sound the same?

One of the fallouts from the recent Joyce Hatto scandal is the ease with which potentially hundreds of different recordings were copied without anybody noticing. Indeed the story was only finally exposed when an apparent Joyce Hatto disc was put into a computer only for it to be (correctly) identified as the Hungarian pianist Lászlo Simon’s recording on BIS.

Now while I can understand the difficulty in spotting matches from sometimes hundreds of different recorded versions of a work, what I find harder to grasp is the fact that a "Hatto-style" could emerge although in fact it was made up of a composite of numerous different pianists including Vladimir Ashkenazy and Yefim Bronfman.

Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould

When you look back over the past hundred years of recorded history many of the top artists had such distinct styles that they couldn’t easily be confused or passed off as someone else. Glenn Gould's Bach recordings were unmistakable and - although different - I still think I'd spot his Brahms or his Beethoven. It is his unique style that is concurrent regardless of what he is playing. The same is equally true for the likes of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Sviatoslav Richter. On other instruments the stylistic differences were even more obvious - clarinettist Jack Brymer's systematic use of vibrato or cellist Pablo Casals' pure beauty of tone. Even orchestras used to sound different - the brass of the Vienna Philharmonic or the "sound" of the Philadelphia Orchestra.It is maybe with some regret then that we find ourselves in a time when everything sounds much more similar and artists' (sometimes eccentric) individuality is no longer the norm. But with the developments in international transport and advancement of recordings themselves over the past sixty or so years it is no longer possible for an artist to emerge untouched by what everyone else is doing.