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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas - Volume 5

Sonatas in C K461; in F K82; in Bb K266; in G K284; in Eb K507;in D K214;in A K404; in G K124; in A K 536; in G K494 in G minor K546; in A K113; in B minor K227; in A K26 in C K548 in C minor K37
Benjamin Frith (piano)
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, November 1999
NAXOS 8.554792 [71.10]


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Naxos is making very slow progress with this series. The idea is potentially a good one. Ask a variety of pianists, mainly young ones, to tackle a recital of about seventy minutes’ duration of Scarlatti and eventually record all 555 of them. Looking back, however, Volumes 1 and 2 were recorded in 1994/5 and this volume in 1999 so that approximately 90 sonatas are now available. At this rate the later volumes will be recorded by pianists who are not, at present, even out of toddler stage.

The other problem is that other companies are tackling the same project and moving faster and more interestingly. Emilio Fadini has just released his volume 5 and 6 for Stradivarius on the fortepiano. This is proving an exciting and fascinating insight. Frederick Haas on Calliope is using a warm sounding harpsichord for his projected series. Of course there’s the harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï on Auvidis who has made quite a ‘splash’. Luc Beauséjour on the more obscure ‘Analekta Fleurs de lys label’ has quickly moved to Volume 3. There is much competition. Do you want your Scarlatti on the pianoforte? If you do why not go for the great pianists?

One essential is for the listener not to notice the performance, but to let the music ‘be’. Many of the virtuosi of past generations can be immediately excluded as they, rightly or wrongly, romanticize the music, add ornaments, miss them out or avoid the repeats, play too slowly or too fast. The young American pianist Michael Lewin in Volume 2 of this series seems to me to fall at this hurdle. But the good news is that Benjamin Frith, a pupil of Fanny Waterman, already enjoying a distinguished career, does not. He allows the music space, gives it shape and chooses tempi which seem to be mostly ideal. He has the knack of making you forget that it is a modern instrument you are hearing. I have to add that volumes 1, (Eteri Andjaparidze) 3 (Jeno Jando) and 4 (Beatrice Long) have mostly eluded me so far but I hope that they are as impressive as Frith.

Yet again however I would like to put in a plea that we should be told the edition being used for these recordings. Some things don’t add up. For example there are some very odd accidentals sounding at the beginning of the second half of the G major sonata K494. Referring to the edition of the Sonatas by Eijo Hashimoto for Schirmers I am struck by an additional bar, number 23 in fact, played twice by Frith in the A major Sonata K113.

The Sonatas in general follow a similar plan. Each is in binary form with each half repeated. The second half either begins in or modulates to a related key say the relative minor, sometimes moving into a particularly distant key as in the G major Sonata K494. In the case of the sonata in B minor K227 there is a remarkable contrast of speed and time signature in the two halves, 2/4 and then 3/8. Many are marked Allegro or Presto, having been written as keyboard exercises for royal offspring or for Scarlatti to show off his own abilities.

He worked in either Portugal or Spain from c.1720 for the rest of his life and almost all of the sonatas were written then and published in Venice or London from c.1742. A few sonatas may well pre-date 1720 as for example the F major sonata K82 more chronologically numbered by Giorgio Pestelli as P25. It is more noticeably a baroque work reminiscent of his father. In fact this is one of the few sonatas not in binary form, being one of the Essercizi marked Toccata, i.e. brief - fast one movement structures of considerable virtuosity. Another in a volume of Essercizi is the A major Sonata K26 which goes in for much hand crossing. The Sonata in C minor K37 (but P2) shows the influence of Vivaldi and may well have been composed as early as 1715.

The other sonata not in binary form is track 4 K284 in G major being in Rondo form; unusual for Scarlatti. There is the usual imitation of Spanish culture in several sonatas as in the G major sonata K124 with a theme which had just been heard by the composer as he wandered Madrid.

This recording is very good and with the proviso that of the sixteen sonatas perhaps too many (fourteen) are in a major mode, not offering enough key contrast, this is a good volume to add to your Scarlatti collection.

Gary Higginson

see also review by Kevin Sutton



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