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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1775)
Sonata in F major: K531 [3:48]
Sonata in F sharp major: K318 [5:33]
Sonata in A major: K333 [2:38]
Sonata in B minor: K87 [7:39]
Sonata in E major: K380 [5:39]
Sonata in G major: K427 [2:23]
Sonata in G minor: 476 [3:30]
Sonata in F major: K44 [5:47]
Sonata in F minor: K481 [7:40]
Sonata in C major: K49 [5:25]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sonata in E major: Op. 6 (1826) [23:14]
Sveinung Bjelland (piano)
rec. 14-27 May 2005, Teldec Studio, Berlin

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. 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 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. 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.
It 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 Scarlattiís 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 musicís more extensive scale and the fundamentally slower tempo. On the other hand, the F minor Sonata K481 is powerful and imposing, one of the composerís grandest conceptions.
In 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 musicís 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.
These performances have many subtleties and the imagination of the coupling is reflected in the taste and imagination of the playing.
Terry Barfoot


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