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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonatas - Volume 5: K188-229

Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord)
CD 1 Sonatas K188-K202 - Rec. Church of St. Maria Minor, Utrecht, December 2002
CD 2 Sonatas K203-K216 - Rec. at same venue, January 2003
CD 3 Sonatas K217-K229 - Rec. Doopagezinde, April 2003
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92201 [65.08 + 76.17 + 59.31]


Brilliant Classics


There are several projects in hand at present to record all of Scarlatti's 555 keyboard sonatas. I won't attempt to list them all. Perhaps the most easily available is the series on Naxos recorded on the piano, each volume featuring a different and often young player. Hearing Benjamin Frith's light-hearted and leisurely account of the D major Sonata K214 on Volume 5 (8.554792) makes a fascinating comparison with Belder. However if I did that I would not be comparing like with like so I will move on.

Brilliant Classics are doing something quite unique here. Pieter-Jan Belder is recording all the sonatas, and although this is already Volume five he will not complete the project until 2007. This, like the other sets, follows a three disc format. Each set features a different instrument recorded on a different date in a different venue. This is a fascinating concept which possibly alleviates any sense of the sense of the routine but also gives the instrument makers a real chance to compare and contrast. All of this is done at budget price.

Is this volume worth consideration? I would say, with just a few reservations most certainly, yes.

I particularly appreciate the fact that the sonatas are presented in Ralph Kirkpatrick's ordering (although the Schirmer edition I possess, edited by Hashimoto, seems to be musically identical). Other orderings are prevalent and arguably have more veracity but Kirkpatrick does attempt, for the most part very successfully, to link these brief works in pairs.

The sonatas are almost all in binary form; normally each half is repeated so it is especially odd when Belder fails to do so as with the second half of the sonata in A, K211. To make life doubly interesting Scarlatti's sonatas can often be considered to be played in pairs therefore creating a binary form within a grander scale binary form. These pairings are often in the same key. This is the case with the two A minor sonatas K217 and 218 marked Andante and then Vivo. These couplings sometimes make for good, complementary and contrasting major/minor pairs as in C major/minor sonatas K225 and 226 and in D minor/major K213 and 214 - a pastoral sonata followed by a Spanish dance. Sometimes the pairings seem ill-matched as in the two in Eb K192 and 193 which both of the same length and both marked Allegro. The two sonatas K197 and K198 are in the more contrasting keys of B minor and E minor and work excellently as a pair.

Stylistically the forty-three sonatas recorded here cover the full range of the baroque and show how versatile Scarlatti really was. They also demonstrate how knowledgeable he was of other music in Europe at that time and this despite his self-imposed exile in a country (Spain) which was considerably away from the mainstream. The sound of castanets is never too far away from Scarlatti as in the second half of the Sonata in B minor K227. However listening to the Sonata in G K210 it seems very 'rococo' almost anticipating J.C. Bach. Some sonatas, like that in A minor K217, remind me of Rameau, and the Sonata in F K194, of Handel. Added to that, the voice of the great Bach himself seems to be almost palpably present at times although Scarlatti hardly ever goes in for Fugues. Imitation, especially at the start of a work, is common. A particularly severe example of this is the Sonata in G minor K196.

Of course many of these are hair-raisingly virtuosic; take K229 in Bb and K216 in E major. Some are just plain awkward like K228 in Bb. Others, like the C major K199, would not tax a young pianist too much. And all of this goes to show that in these works there is considerable interest and variety. In these performances these qualities are mostly very carefully and enjoyably realized often with aplomb by Pieter-Jan Belder for whom any technical difficulties do not seem to exist.

The three instruments are much of a muchness. Volume 1 features a 1999 instrument by Cornelius Bom after Ruckers which for my taste was miked too closely and has more post-resonance than I like. Volume 2 features a harpsichord built by Jan Kalsbeck. This is rather short of bass. Volume 3 features another instrument by Cornelius Bom, this time dating from 2002, which seems ideal.

Incidentally if you are interested in harpsichords you might be happy to learn that the enclosed booklet notes by Clemes Romijn are entirely devoted to the kind of instruments Scarlatti had available to him and for which he composed. The famous castrato Farinelli lived eventually in Spain and he has left some documentation on the subject. There are no comments whatsoever about the music itself.

It has to be admitted that, as might be expected, some of the performances are a little routine but, letís face it, some of the sonatas can be rather routine also. Sadly the two come together quite often as for example in the A major sonatas K219 and K220. It may be that this set suffers from not having any especially well-known pieces.

If I had to pick out favourites I would find it quite difficult,. There is a choice between K204 and K206 in F minor and major with their eccentric and surprising changes of time signatures. K215 has incredibly tangy harmonies in the second section.

I can do nothing but recommend this set. It will appeal strongly to anyone who has a strong interest in Scarlatti. There is much here to enjoy.

Gary Higginson

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