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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonatas: complete Keyboard Sonatas, Volume 6
E major K135/L224
A major K429/L132
D major K478/L12
G major K169/L331
G major K259/L103
C major K502/L3
F major K419/L279
F minor K19/L383
B flat major K112/L298
E flat major K123/L111
F major K274/L297
A major K405/L43
F sharp major K318/L31
F sharp minor K67/L32
C sharp minor K247/L256
G major K63/L84
Evgeny Zarafiants (piano)
Rec 1-4 November 1999, Phoenix Studio, Budapest
NAXOS 8.554793 [77.32]


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Domenico Scarlatti was 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; the two featured here are both single movements.

This is Volume 6 in Naxosís Scarlatti project with various pianists. Evgeny Zarafiants is an excellent player, and his clear articulation and lucid textures make a strong feature of this pleasing CD. Just as in a recital in the concert hall, making a compelling start is important in a recorded recital. That is exactly what Zarafiants does here, aided by clear (if a little dry) Naxos sound.

The first few sonatas are particularly attractive and nicely contrasted, the slower tempo of the second (in A major) offsetting the rhythmic vitality of the first (in E major). Therefore the temptation when listening is to continue to the next item rather than merely to listen to a single sonata.

The playing is particularly precise and, just occasionally, this can seem prosaic. For example, one of the most appealing items in this collection is the F major Sonata, K274, with its delightfully pert rhythms. While there is nothing particularly wrong with Zafariantsí performance, the phrasing is a little lacking in imagination and the result is a certain lack of sparkle. One wonders whether some Ė though not all - of this music might sound better when played on the composerís own instrument, the harpsichord.

The recording too does justice to Scarlatti, since it is dry and clear though not without atmosphere and warmth. This is probably an appropriate balance, since it allows the details of the musicís extraordinary textures to be heard without difficulty. 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 imaginatively planned disc serves his music well.

Terry Barfoot

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