I was trying to think
why I had enjoyed this CD of Scarlatti
sonatas more than so many others recently.
It is not that the others were bad or
dull; it’s just that this recording
kept me interested throughout and I
found that I fell in love with this
I have recently heard
or reviewed some of Naxos’s ongoing
series with young pianists like Michael
Lewin or Benjamin Frith. Then there’s
been the brilliant Pierre Hantaï
using an Italian harpsichord (Auvidis
Astrée). There’s also the mega-ongoing
complete Scarlatti on Brilliant Classics
played by Pieter-Jan Belder also on
It might be helpful
if I list for you the essentially attractive
characteristics of this new release:-
(1) The sheer musicality
of Linda Nicholson, extracting from
the music every ounce of its worth
and more. And with such elegant phrasing.
(2) The beautiful
fortepiano used. Frankly, I have on
occasions, been irritated by the standard
of fortepianos recorded by quite reputable
companies. However this reproduction
of a 1730 Christofori - the greatest
of all makers and often the most underrated
- by Denzel Wright based on one made
for Scarlatti’s patron Queen Maria
Barbara of Spain makes a gorgeous
sound. Yes it can be metallic and
subdued in climaxes but it has a marvellous
delicacy and, especially in the expressive
sonatas, a profoundly beautiful sound.
(3) The sonatas chosen
are all outstanding works.
Not a single naff example in sight.
Of course this is easy to achieve
when, unlike Pieter-Jan Belder, you
are not trying to get through them
all. There are some collections when
either a weak piece or a weak performance
spoils an otherwise worthy project.
Not so here.
(4) Excellent booklet
notes by Jane Clark, who goes through
each sonata discussing its history
and especially emphasizing the Spanish
influence. Over the years, I have
been increasingly reminded that Scarlatti
can in many ways be thought of as
a Spanish composer with an Italian
background. Here this is brought over
(5) A recording which
is probably the best of its kind in
its natural and charming reproduction
of the instrument.
As is reasonably well
known, some sonatas are probably meant
to be paired and Ralph Kirkpatrick attempts
to reflect this in his numbering system.
The two B flat sonatas K248 and K249
do not convince me as pairs but the
E major ones K215 and K216 are just
right. By that I mean that they are
sufficiently contrasted and yet sufficiently
different to make an ideal pairing.
One thing which does
puzzle me however is Nicholson’s inconsistency
as far as repeats are concerned. These
sonatas are all binary structures, AB,
and each is marked in any edition that
I have seen, as being repeated. Sadly
although she always repeats the A section
only sometimes does she repeat the B.
I find this especially disappointing
in the large-scale D minor sonata K213
where, as is often the case, the B section
is even more imaginative and exciting
than the A. We need another chance to
appreciate its colours. Consequently
therefore the balance of the work seems
uneven. On the positive side it has
meant that she has fitted fifteen sonatas
onto this generously filled disc. I
for one am especially glad of that.
The disc captivated
me from the start. It opens with the
delicate and melancholic B minor sonata
K192. Another highlight was the really
fleet performance of the famous C major
sonata K159 in which one was reminded
by Linda Nicholson as to how the fortepiano
(especially this one) can offer such
delightful contrasts of dynamic. Could
this be the sound that Queen Maria Barbara
enjoyed, heard and attempted herself?
If she did then she must have been a
fine player. Spanish, or more especially
Andalusian, influences, flamenco guitars,
castanets, wailing Moorish-inflected
melodies are found throughout. Just
listen to K203 in E minor, based on
Spanish dance rhythms with discordant
sfz attacks on off-beat chords.
The full range of the keyboard is used
and the requisite virtuosity is easily
negotiated by Nicholson.
All in all this is
an incredibly rewarding release. Definitely
worth searching out.