Surely, by now, most music-lovers know that Domenico Scarlatti
wrote more than the keyboard sonatas. Even so it makes sense
to release recordings in which this is demonstrated. This disc
presents some specimens from the various genres to which he
contributed. The largest part of Scarlatti's vocal and instrumental
music was written before he moved to the Iberian peninsula.
There are some exceptions, though, as his famous setting of
the Salve Regina proves. The cover of the manuscript
says that it was "the last of his works, composed in Madrid
not long before his death". It is a piece which is dominated
by text expression, and despite the date of composition is a
typical example of baroque style. Carlos Mena proves to be the
ideal interpreter, bringing warmth and passion to this motet
on a text which is a product of the veneration of Mary.
The catalogue of Scarlatti's oeuvre includes the titles of thirteen
operas which he composed between 1703 and 1718. From the majority
only a number of arias have survived. The opera Amor d'un
ombra e gelosia d'un'aura isa remarkable. It was first performed
in 1714 in Rome. In 1720 it was performed again in the King's
Theatre in London, under the title Narciso. It was Scarlatti's
only opera to be performed outside Italy. That same year the
overture and the arias were printed. Two of them are included
in the programme of this disc. The scoring is for voice, violins
and bc. The liner-notes don't tell us whether this is the original
scoring: in the theatre the strings would probably have included
the viola. The edition could well have been directed towards
the growing market of amateur performers who liked to play opera
arias at home.
The number of instrumental works by Scarlatti is limited. The
Bibliothèque Nationale de France contains a collection
of 17 sinfonias of which 16 are authenticated as by Scarlatti.
These are not independent compositions but rather written as
overtures to operas. In only three cases the opera to which
they belong can be traced. This suggests that some of Scarlatti's
operas may well have been lost completely, and that he wrote
more than the 13 which the catalogue mentions. The Sinfonia
in C is one which was probably written for a now lost opera.
It comprises three short movements: presto, andante e staccato,
allegrissimo. The operatic origins of this piece are well exposed
by the orchestra.
Domenico's father Alessandro was a prolific composer of chamber
cantatas. Domenico himself also composed a considerable number.
They not only date from his Italian period; some of them were
written for the famous castrato Farinelli, who lived in Madrid
at the time Scarlatti was there. Many of his cantatas can't
be dated, but Doppo lungo servire can: the manuscript
in the Santini Collection in Münster gives 2 July 1702 as the
date of composition. It is a typical example of pastoral poetry
which is set by Scarlatti in a sequence of three pairs of recitative
and aria. The first aria is in a lively tempo with an infectious
rhythm, the second is in a quiet tempo, whereas the cantata
ends with a beautiful 'aria a la siciliana'. Notable is the
second aria which is scored for voice and bc alone; the strings
only play a ritornello at the end. Carlos Mena gives a very
fine interpretation. The two lyrical arias are nicely sung,
but Mena also has a good sense of the theatrical parts of this
work, as shown by both the first aria and the recitatives. The
use of a full string ensemble of eight violins is questionable.
The scoring is for alto, 2 violins and bc, and as this kind
of cantata was written for private performances it is highly
unlikely that more than two violins were deployed.
Although Scarlatti's non-keyboard compositions are recorded
now and then, he is still known first and foremost as a composer
of keyboard sonatas. His reputation in the 18th century was
already based on that part of his oeuvre. The first edition
of some of his sonatas was printed in London in 1738 or 1739.
In 1739 Thomas Roseingrave published another collection of sonatas.
They were very popular in England, probably more than anywhere
else. Further evidence of that is given by the concerti grossi
which were published in 1744 by Charles Avison. Most movements
are based on sonatas by Scarlatti, but some contain original
material by Avison. In these arrangements Avison followed in
the footsteps of his hero, Francesco Geminiani, who had arranged
the sonatas for violin and bc op. 5 by Corelli into concerti
grossi. The disc interestingly ends with five sonatas which
are used in the two Avison concertos on this disc. It is proof
of Avison's craftsmanship that one doesn't immediately experience
his concertos as arrangements. One has to know Scarlatti's sonatas
really well to recognize them. That makes the addition of the
originals all the more interesting. Probably the best-known
is the Sonata in d minor (K 9) which is arranged in the
last movement of Avison's Concerto X in D. As far as
the performances are concerned: Nicolau de Figueiredo plays
the sonatas very well on an appropriate instrument. The concertos
are also nicely done, but maybe a bit too extraverted: it does
sound more Spanish or Italian than English. I am inclined to
think English musicians of Avison's time will have played them
in a somewhat more restrained manner. This is a minor footnote
to a most enjoyable and compelling recording. The programme
convincingly shows 'the other side' of Domenico Scarlatti as
well as his influence at his contemporaries.
The liner-notes are not quite accurate. To some extent this
may be due to the translation. There’s a reference to Alessandro
Scarlatti's reputation in the late 18th century, rather than
the late 17th. The translation of 'sinfonia' as 'symphony' is
unfortunate. Scarlatti's sinfonias are very different from the
classical symphonies. "Over many generations, many of the
greatest composers - Palestrina, Victoria, Monteverdi, Cavalli,
Carissimi, Kaiser, Charpentier, Hasse or Gluck - left us an
exiguous amount of instrumental music, and not a single note
written for harpsichord or organ", writes Joseba Berrocal.
That is rather inaccurate: Palestrina, Victoria, Monteverdi
and Carissimi left no instrumental music. Hasse wrote at least
a set of six sonatas for keyboard. I assume 'Kaiser' refers
to Reinhard Keiser. The title of Scarlatti's cantata is given
as Doppo lungo servire. Is this the title in the manuscript?
If so, New Grove probably 'corrected' it into "dopo"
in its work-list. My last remark concerns the acoustic: there
is a bit too much reverberation, and as the orchestra is perhaps
a shade too large anyway, this makes the sound even bigger which
is rather unfortunate considering that most of the music was
written for private performance.
Johan van Veen
Vorrebbe la speranza [2:08]
Si, si, tu ben lo sai [2:54]
Charles AVISON (1709-1770)
Concerto V after Domenico Scarlatti in d minor [9:03]
Salve Regina in A [12:34]
Sinfonia in C [3:11]
Doppo lungo servire, cantata [14:22]
Concerto X after Domenico Scarlatti in D [6:37]
Sonata in d minor (K 10) [2:54]
Sonata in d minor (K 41) [4:02]
Sonata in d minor (K 5) [3:19]
Sonata in d minor (K 9) [3:40]
Sonata in c minor (K 11) [2:14]