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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas Vol. 3
Sonata in G major, K.201 [3:40]
Sonata in D minor, K.10 [2:27]
Sonata in B major, K.261 [5:21]
Sonata in B flat major, K.70 [2:06]
Sonata in D minor, K.444 [2:55]
Sonata in A minor, K.54 [4:44]
Sonata in A major, K.537 [3:35]
Sonata in F sharp minor, K.447 [2:32]
Sonata in E major, K.46 [4:17]
Sonata in A major. K.212 [3:26]
Sonata in E minor, K.203 [4:50]
Sonata in G major, K. 105 [5:29]
Sonata in C minor, K.126 [8:15]
Sonata in F major, K.525 [2:18]
Sonata in F minor, K.69 [5:18]
Sonata in D major, K.119 [5:41]

Jenö Jandö (piano)
Rec: December 1999
NAXOS 8.555047 [66.53]
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Two differing opinions. In the end it depends on your views on authenticity

Firstly Kirk McElhearn

The harpsichord-piano debate is a never-ending one: should one play music written for the harpsichord on piano? And, if so, should it be considered the same music, or merely an arrangement or adaptation? There are several reasons not to - not only the sound, but also the very structure of the instrument (the harpsichord is plucked, not hammered, and notes cannot be held in the same manner). But, aside from the mechanical aspects of the instrument, there is also the question of tuning. A piano is tuned to equal temperament, which fits well with romantic music, written with this in mind. Chromatic notes do not stand out the same, and intervals have different colours. Also, the instruments were tuned to different frequencies (the piano is A 440, and the harpsichord, depending on the period and country, could be anywhere from A 390 to 415, and even other frequencies).

So, listening to a recording like this, one has to choose - is it a piano recording, or is it merely a recording of harpsichord music on piano? While I, personally, prefer listening to harpsichords, I am not averse to hearing Bach, Couperin or Byrd on piano, if it is played well. Listening to this recording, however, is a shock. Jenö Jandö, a very competent and expressive pianist who has made many excellent recordings, plays this music as if it were totally removed from its true style and context. If there is one word that describes Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas it is flamboyant. Yet Jandö's performance is anything but flamboyant - he sands off every rough edge, every rhythmic quirk and every bit of originality that makes Scarlatti's sonatas such great music.

Scarlatti wrote 555 sonatas for harpsichord, and each of them stands out as a unique work. The term 'sonata' here has nothing to do with the later, classical definition of a work with several movements. Scarlatti's sonatas are brief works, most just a few minutes long. They are all driven by an intense feeling of rhythm; they are all based on dance movements, as were most baroque harpsichord pieces, and Scarlatti rarely composed introspective music: slow sonatas that gave time to think. His leitmotiv was energy, unrestrained verve and liveliness.

Unfortunately, Jandö does not seem to understand this. In some of the sonatas he plays far too slowly, in an uninspired, insipid way that tries to turn Scarlatti into Beethoven. His performance of sonata K126 in C minor is depressing - at over 8 minutes (compared to Scott Ross's recording at just over 5 minutes) he drags on, erasing all of the rhythmic inventiveness from the work. This sonata is very indicative of Scarlatti's compositional style - fast rhythmic riffs, arpeggios and trills. Jandö smoothes all this off and delivers a romantic retelling of the piece that is anything but Scarlatti.

Curiously, not all of Jandö's performances are this insipid. The sonata K119 in D Major moves at a rhythm much closer to that of Scarlatti's original intentions. It almost works, as does the sonata K 201 in G Major. Here, in the first piece on this recording, Jandö seems much closer to attaining the energy necessary to correctly transmit this music. But, he fails again in the beautiful sonata K 261 in B Major, one of Scarlatti's finest. Jandö is too vague, rhythmically, to truly make this music anything alive and vibrant.

A disappointing recording of some of the finest works written for keyboard. Perhaps this disc, more than many, shows the importance of playing harpsichord music on the instrument it was written for, and not "adapting" it for the piano. It may appeal to those who dislike the harpsichord and think that 18th century music should be modernised.

Kirk McElhearn

But Terry Barfoot has a higher opinion of this disc

Domenico Scarlatti as born in 1785, the same year as Bach and Handel, and studied in Naples with his father Alessandro and in Venice with Francesco Gasparini; in Venice, indeed, he met Handel, who was in the city to advance his understanding of the Italian opera. Thereafter Scarlatti travelled widely: he worked in Rome, London, and Lisbon, before returning home to Naples in 1725. Four years later he moved to Madrid, where he lived for practically all his remaining years.

Scarlatti is chiefly famous for his five hundred and fifty keyboard sonatas, a body of work which developed the expressive range of this musical genre to an extraordinary degree. In common with his exact contemporary Bach, he wrote for the harpsichord with such verve and imagination that his music sounds equally well (if not better) on the modern piano; indeed it has rightly become a standard feature of the repertoire. The structures of the sonatas are considerably varied; those featured here are all single movements.

This is Volume 3 in Naxos's Scarlatti project with the Hungarian pianist Jenö Jandó, who has already made recordings galore with the company in a wide range of repertoire. He is on excellent form here, playing with imagination, taste and dexterity, as required. For the nature of these pieces varies considerably from one to the next _ they are a veritable treasure trove of imaginative and engaging music. To prove the point just try the G major Sonata with which the CD begins. It makes compelling listening, such is the imagination at the heart of Scarlatti's inventiveness.

Jandó is at his very best in what is perhaps the strangest of the pieces collected here, the B major Sonata, K261. This unusual key certainly generated a distinctive response from the composer: after a fairly innocuous beginning, there is an obsessive insistence on repetitions of a single note as the music develops, and these performances capture the strange and compelling nature of the music with great imagination.

The recording too does justice to Scarlatti, with a nicely atmospheric presence and warmth, as well as a pleasing clarity which allows all the details of the music's extraordinary textures to be heard. With so many sonatas to his credit, it is inevitably tempting to think that Scarlatti composed merely to a formula. But nothing could be further from the truth, and this excellent disc serves him the music well.

Terry Barfoot

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