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. When he was in Venice, moreover,
he met Handel, who was in the city to advance his understanding
of the Italian opera. Thereafter Scarlatti travelled widely.
For example, 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
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. His success was
such that these pieces have rightly become a standard feature
of the repertory. The structures of the sonatas are considerably
varied, and those featured in this recital by Sveinung Bjelland reflect that variety,
and with much imagination too. The performances are
heard in a spacious and natural acoustic, and the Simax engineers
have also achieved a pleasing sound quality for the piano.
In the light of this it seems a pity that the instrument
is not identified in the booklet, though the two piano tuners
do warrant a mention.
seems an excellent idea to couple Scarlatti with Mendelssohn,
another composer of immense subtlety and wit when it comes
to keyboard music. Here as in the Scarlatti pieces Bjelland
is on excellent form, playing with imagination, taste and
dexterity, whichever is required required. For the nature
of these pieces, by both composers, represents a veritable
treasure trove of imaginative and engaging music. To prove
the point just try the E major Sonata with which the CD begins.
It makes for compelling listening, such is the imagination
at the heart of Scarlatti’s inventiveness.
There are some delightfully pointed details
of phrasing to be found in these Scarlatti performances,
including for example the seemingly repetitive manner of
the A major Sonata, K533, which on closer acquaintance turns
out to be anything but repetitive. One reason for this revelation
is the careful attention that is paid to phrasing and tempi.
In the celebrated B minor Sonata K87 the same is true, but
the effect is wholly different because of the music’s more
extensive scale and the fundamentally slower tempo. On the
other hand, the F minor Sonata K481 is powerful and imposing,
one of the composer’s grandest conceptions.
the Mendelssohn Sonata, Bjelland responds to the demands
of music that develops across a larger span. More famous
pianists, including Murray Perahia, have made a case for
this piece and Bjelland does not suffer unduly from such
ambitious comparisons. Perhaps the command of the music’s
longer-term vision is less immediately apparent, but the
performance still has abundant sensitivity and a clear sense
of direction. There might also be more drama in the finale,
but even so the performance stands up well on its own terms.
performances have many subtleties and the imagination of
the coupling is reflected in the taste and imagination of