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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Sonatas – Volume VII: K270-317
CD 1 Sonatas K270-K286
CD 2 Sonatas K287-K301
CD 3 Sonatas K302-K317
Pieter-Jan Beldwer (harpsichord, organ)
rec. Dutch Reformed Church, Renswoude, April 2004 (K270-K286); Dutch Reformed Church, Giessen, May 2004 (K289-K301); Dutch Reformed Church, Rhoon, September 2004 (K302-317); Koepelkerk, Arnhem, October 2004 (K287-288).
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92772 [3 CDs: 66:14 + 62:12 + 67:32]
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With this volume, Pieter-Jan Belder passes the halfway point in his complete recording of all of Scarlatti’s 555 sonatas.
While he may not quite have the panache or individuality of Scott Ross, Pieter-Jan Belder is a very fine musician and this is another valuable volume in an excellent series.
Most of these sonatas come from volumes V and VI of the fifteen volumes of Scarlatti’s sonatas which formerly belonged to his patron (and pupil) Queen Maria Barbara of Spain and which are now in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice (Mss. 9770-9784). Ralph Kirkpatrick, while admiring a number of individual sonatas contained in them, didn’t regard volumes V-VIII very highly, observing “I cannot feel that the sonatas pf these three volumes add appreciably to Scarlatti’s glory. They contain many excellent pieces, but almost none that in some measure does not duplicate what he has already said or what he will say later. To a musical housebreaker among the Queen’s manuscripts, or to a modern thief in the Biblioteca Marciana, I would give the following advice, in the event of limited baggage: Take all you can carry, but if something must be left behind, let it be volumes I, II, V, VI, and VII”.
Perhaps these are, for the most part, relatively run-of-the-mill sonatas, by the standards of Scarlatti. But those are pretty high standards; Scarlatti, even when not at the very peak of his art is eminently worth one’s attention – this is still music which fascinates and stimulates, especially when played as well as it is here.
Particular pleasures include K273 in which a pastorale replaces the ‘excursion’, the central section of the second half, with its evocation of the zampognari, the rustic Italian bagpipe players Scarlatti must often have heard in his youth, and K282 into whose D major development Scarlatti unexpectedly inserts a minuet in D minor. K284 is a variant on rondo form, with some remarkable bass drones and the flavour of a rural dance. In K308, marked cantabile, there is an unmistakable sense of a solo ‘voice’ with accompaniment and its partner, K309 is interesting for, amongst other things, the deceptive cadences which effect a ‘false’ ending.
Many of the sonatas included here are less virtuosic than some of their predecessors. To quote Kirkpatrick once more, “never again, does Scarlatti return to reckless flamboyance of his earlier pieces. He retains his virtuosity and all the colors of his instrumental palette, but he handles them with a sobriety and concentration that have always been the attributes of the mature artist in his old age”.  Belder can, of course, handle the technical demands of Scarlatti’s virtuoso sonatas with very few problems; here he shows that he can also play simpler sonatas with sensitivity and lyricism.
Volume V of the manuscript collection in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana also contains Scarlatti’s two organ voluntaries, K287 and 288. The first of these, in another manuscript, carries the superscription “Per Organo da Camera con due Tastatura Flautato e Trombone”. The Venice manuscript carries full indications for changes of manuals. There are some splendid effects and it makes one wonder what some of the sonatas might sound like on a small organ. Bender uses an 1842 organ by C. F. A. Naber; one can imagine them being even more successful on a Spanish organ with a bit more bite and colour.
As is the way with this series, Bender plays sequences of sonatas on different instruments. The sonatas on CD 1 are played on a copy, by Cornelis Bom (2003) of a harpsichord by the Luccan-born maker Giovanni Battista Giusti, whose most famous surviving creations belong to the 1670s. The instrument used on CD 2 is described in exactly the same way, but sounds very slightly different – maybe this is just a result of the acoustic and the recording. On CD 3 Bender plays another copy by Cornelis Bom, this time of an instrument by one or other of the Ruckers and made in 1999. The copy (copies?) after Giusti is/are superb and seemingly perfectly suited to the music. The instrument modelled on the work of the Ruckers workshop feels a little heavy at times, but gives a distinctive and generally attractive colour to the music.
Not long ago I looked at a book of 1785 in London. It was a small selection of Scarlatti’s keyboard works made by Ambrose Pitman (a pupil of Arne’s), under the title of The beauties of Dominico Scarlatti. Selected from his suites de lecons, for the harpsichord or pianoforte. For all his admiration of Scarlatti, Pitman’s collection carried on its title-page a note declaring that the works had been Revised with a Variety of Improvements - Pitman later makes it clear that he believes the music to be overfull of “superfluous and studied difficulties”. Despite his willingness to ‘improve’ them (like Nahum Tate ‘improving’ Shakespeare) he ringingly affirmed in the opening sentence of his Preface that “The Lessons of Dominico Scarlatti have ever been esteemed by Musical Theorists for their many excellencies of taste, Genius and Originality”. These “many excellencies” – without added ‘improvements’ – are very attractively placed before the listener in this highly enjoyable set of CDs. I look forward to later volumes.

Glyn Pursglove


Reviews of other releases in this series on Musicweb
Volume 1 (99740) - review by Kirk McElhearn
Volume 2 (99775) - review by Kirk McElhearn
Volume 5 (92201) - review by Gary Higginson
Volume 6 (92455) - review by Robert Hugill


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