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Brilliant Classics

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685–1757)
Sonatas - Volume 6
Sonatas K230 to K269

Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord)
rec. 26, 28 May 2003, Maria Minor, Utrecht; 6 October 2003, Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Deventer; 2 February 2004, Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Schoonhoven
BRILLIANT 92455 [3 CDs: 62.34 + 59.40 + 57.18]
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Domenico Scarlatti wrote 555 keyboard sonatas, a stupendous achievement even allowing for the fact that they are all single-movement works. The key to this burst of creativity seems to lie in Scarlatti’s move to Portugal where, at the age of 35, he became chapel master to King João of Portugal and harpsichord teacher to the Infanta Maria Barbara. After nine years, Maria Barbara married the heir the Spanish Throne, Scarlatti followed her to Madrid and he remained there until his death. The sonatas combine brilliant, virtuoso techniques with a remarkable feel for the sounds and sights of the Iberian Peninsula.

This set (consisting of 3 CDs) is volume 6 of Brilliant Classics’ projected complete edition of the Scarlatti sonatas. Whereas Naxos are producing a Scarlatti edition using different players all playing on the piano, Brilliant use the same player, Pieter-Jan Belder, for all the sonatas, recording each disc on a different harpsichord. Belder plays the sonatas in the Kirkpatrick ordering which makes for interesting listening as Kirkpatrick attempted to link them in pairs.

The issue of what instrument the sonatas are played on is a very important, but very personal one. Personally, I have a leaning towards hearing these works on the piano even though that is seen as not authentic. But what is authentic? Belder plays three different harpsichords all made by Cornelis Bom; I don’t think that any of them are particularly Spanish-influenced. Was there a distinctive Spanish harpsichord sound and how did it affect Scarlatti’s technique? These are questions that intrigue me and if we start to worry too much about authenticity, then we should take them into account. Then, of course, there is the tantalising, circumstantial evidence which might link Domenico Scarlatti with a form of early piano; now that would make an interesting record.

The harpsichords which Belder plays are all rather closely miked; too closely for my taste. He is an efficient player and listening to any one of these sonatas you cannot help but be impressed by his technique. He never sounds rushed or flustered and renders everything with wonderful clarity. He rather favours steadyish speeds; not too slow but not too fast either. The result is efficient and admirable.

But I’m afraid that I want a little more. Compared to Scott Ross on Erato, Belder lacks the variety of touch necessary. Scott uses this tactile variety to bring out the sense of fantasy implicit in the pieces. Belder seems to lack a sense of the sonatas’ fantasy and renders them in a slightly uniform manner which tends to reduce them.

The booklet contains an interesting article on the Spanish influences in Scarlatti’s sonatas, but nothing about the specific sonatas on this disc.

No-one should be without some recordings of Scarlatti sonatas in their library, though I don’t know how many of us want to have the complete set. At super-budget price, this ongoing Brilliant series is a way of acquiring the complete sonatas in quietly efficient performances. But if I bought it, I’d want to supplement it with some other performers who bring out the fantasy and the Spanishness of these works.

Robert Hugill

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