Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. I*
CD 1: Essercizi K.1-15 (E 1-15)
CD 2: Essercizi K.16-30 (E 16-30)
CD 3: Parma, Book I: Sonatas K.148-162 (P1: 1-15)
CD 4: Parma, Book I: Sonatas K.129, 163-176 (P1: 16-30)
CD 5: Parma, Book II: Sonatas K.46, 113, 124-5, 134-8, 179-184 (P2: 1-15)
CD 6: Parma, Book II: Sonatas K.44, 48, 56, 69, 87, 119-20, 126-8, 130-1, 185-7 (P2: 16-30)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. II*
CD 1: Parma, Book III: Sonatas K.43, 47, 49, 55, 57, 104, 109-10, 115-16, 118, 121-2, 139, (P3: 1-15)
CD 2: Parma, Book III: Sonatas K.41, 50, 54, 96, 98-9, 100-1, 105-7, 111-12, 114, 123, 140 (P3: 16-30)
CD 3: Parma, Book IV: Sonatas K.188-92, 196-7, 201-2, 208-14 (P4: 1-15)
CD 4: Parma, Book IV: Sonatas K.193-5, 198, 203-5, 215-19 (P4: 16-30)
CD 5: Parma, Book IV: Sonatas K.220 (P4: 30) & Parma, Book V: K.108, 132-3, 206-7, 221-30 (P5: 1-15)
CD 6: Parma, Book V: Sonatas K.231-5, 238-47 (P5: 16-30)
*Full track listing follows review.
Carlo Grante (piano)
rec. Studio Glanzing, Vienna, 2009. DDD
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1236 [6 CDs: 392:15]
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1242 [6 CDs: 454:03]


These are the first two volumes of Italian pianist Carlo Grante's recording for Music & Arts of Domenico Scarlatti's complete keyboard sonatas. The sonatas have been recorded in their entirety three times before, by Scott Ross on Erato, originally released in 1988 and later re-released on Warner Classics (see review), by Pieter-Jan Belder on Brilliant Classics, released in 2008 (see review of last three volumes), with a third set by Richard Lester on Privilege Accord, later on Nimbus (see review of the final volume, which also has links to earlier ones), this last laying claim to being the most complete Complete Sonatas, in that it takes into account most recent scholarship. The latter adds another two, plus 11 of questionable authenticity, to Ralph Kirkpatrick's oft-quoted total of 555. As it happens, Kirkpatrick's requires slight modification itself, in that two of them (K.95 and K.97) are rather doubtful, eight were written for keyboard and continuo, and there are two K.204s, an 'A' and a 'B' version.

The Music & Arts edition is one of at least four further sets well under way. The Italian label Stradivarius is currently standing at Volume 11 (2009), recorded by various artists on harpsichord, fortepiano, organ and, in Volume 10, mandolin. On the French label Mirare, Pierre Hanta´ has only so far reached Volume 3, released as far back as 2006. Epically, Naxos began their edition in 1999 - Volume 13 was recently reviewed here. The double uniqueness of the Naxos set lies in the fact that each volume features a different performer, and, like Music & Arts, Naxos are recording all the sonatas on the pianoforte.

This last point is a source of some controversy. Scott Ross, Richard Lester and Pierre Hanta´ all perform Scarlatti's sonatas on the the harpsichord, Pieter-Jan Belder a mix of harpsichord and fortepiano, with the organ used where specified by Scarlatti. The Naxos and Music & Arts recordings are thus the first complete recordings to feature the pianoforte only; the unique selling point of Carlo Grante's set is the fact that it is the first to be recorded by a single soloist. The controversy, such as it is, lies in the fact that some at least will consider that Scarlatti's music, written all but unambiguously for the harpsichord, is musically diminished on the very different medium of the pianoforte - the loudness and unavoidable natural resonance of the modern piano have an undeniable effect on articulation, and some of the finer details of Scarlatti's more delicate embellishments are inevitably compromised.

Scarlatti was widely considered one of the finest harpsichordists in history, once famously likened to "ten hundred devils" at the keyboard, and the harpsichord has been the instrument of choice for many of Scarlatti's finest modern advocates, like Kirkpatrick, Leonhardt, Pinnock and Tilney, not to mention Ross, Lester and Henta´.

Yet there have also been acclaimed small-scale recordings on the piano, such as those by Pletnev, Horowitz or Staier, for example. Furthermore, the idiosyncratic tone of the harpsichord does tend to polarise opinion, to a degree that some may even have foregone the almost limitless rewards communicated by Scarlatti's sonatas in order to avoid having to listen to the harpsichord! Certainly anyone indifferent to it is very unlikely to be prepared to sit through thirty-five-plus hours, whereas, questions of authenticity aside, it is hard to imagine any dissent regarding the glorious sound of the B÷sendorfer Imperial piano that Grante plays all this music on, with its very warm, clean, almost majestic tone. In truth, it is only those accustomed to listening to Scarlatti on the harpsichord who will find it to any degree artificial performed on the piano.

The first two CDs of Volume I are given over to the 30 Essercizi (Esercizi in modern Italian) published most likely in 1738. The remaining 4 discs, and all six of Volume II, are of music taken from the first five volumes held in the Palatina National Library at Parma, Italy, with a further ten still to come. Grante's decision to play them in this sequence often takes them out of the order devised by Kirkpatrick, a flawed system, but still with wide currency; but this is of little real consequence from a chronological or stylistic point of view, because none of Scarlatti's autographs have survived, and there is thus no way of knowing what order they were composed in. In any case, most of the Sonatas relate to the creatively intensive period Scarlatti spent in Spain, where he had no real need to 'evolve' as a composer.

When the Essercizi ('Exercises') were published, Scarlatti included the following note to the would-be player: "Whether you be Dilettante or Professional, do not expect to find any profound Understanding in these Compositions, but rather an ingenious Jesting with Art by which you may find mastery of the Harpsichord. Neither Self-interest nor Ambition led me to publish them, but Obedience." Posterity has shown that Scarlatti was being very modest.

It is true that the Essercizi tend towards straightforwardness and a certain amount of restraint, and nearly all the pieces in both volumes share the same essence: a single Allegro or Presto movement, in binary form, three to six minutes long, and generally upbeat in mood (despite the fact that around 40% of the pieces are in a minor key).

Yet for all that, the Sonatas in particular are astonishingly individual and frequently quite daring, particularly in Parma Book IV. Without any reliance on virtuosity, Scarlatti's imagination seems limitless, as he varies rhythm, harmony, texture, tempo and colour at will, to create an endless display of beautifully crafted, 'full score' miniatures. For this reason it would be improper to single out individual highlights - every listener will find dozens of favourites from a single volume. And this is true despite the fact that melody was of somewhat marginal interest to Scarlatti - there is far more emphasis on harmonies, rhythms and textures. Tunes certainly abound in both the Exercises and the Sonatas, but the listener is more likely to burst into spontaneous finger- or foot-tapping than song. For all the time he spent in Spain, Scarlatti was a cosmopolitan composer, and throughout the music there are traces of Frenchness in the form of Rameau and Couperin, and German influence from JS Bach; and whilst his Italian heritage is never far away (the siciliana especially), the many dance rhythms and exotic harmonies are as likely to be of Iberian origin - from flamenco, zapateado and jota to Moorish and fado-like accords, for example.

Either of these volumes will yield six or more hours of immensely enjoyable listening. Listening to all six discs one after another is not the best way to appreciate Scarlatti's genius, but such is that genius, and Carlo Grante's marvellously varied and enthusiastic interpretation of it, that no one bent on such a course will have any grounds for boredom - it truly is one gem after another.

Carlo Grante brings a certain amount of his personality to these recordings, but he is a pianist of great professionalism, masterly technique and consummate taste. Clearly these are not going to be strict historically informed performances, but Grante's intonation is immaculate, very expressive and, within the limitations imposed by the piano's different mechanism, highly 'harpsichordal'. There is some technical innovation too - where called for, Grante uses an ornamentation that Scarlatti called tremulo, a kind of trill, or as Grante explains in his notes, "essentially a guitar 'tremolo'".

On the whole, Grante seems to play the Sonatas at an unhurried pace, certainly compared to Scott Ross's set - it may be that Ross omitted repeats that Grante includes, but some of the differences in timings still seem extraordinary: Ross's for K.240, for example, comes in at 6'03, whereas Grante takes 9'36; for K.206 Ross's 5'39 is more than doubled by Grante at 11'25! On the other hand, K.104 in Richard Lester's set is timed at 10'38, whereas Ross takes only 6'22, and the Essercizi in Ross's and Grante's sets do have very similar timings. In any case, Grante never seems to be dawdling; his timings suit the mood of the music very nicely, as in the ageless serenity of K.206.

The CD booklets are paragons of the informative. Though the font employed is necessarily small, and the ink a lighter black than it ought to be for maximum legibility, the sheer amount of detail in Grante's own notes is almost worth the asking price on its own, with information about sources, ornamentation, chronology and Scarlatti's musical language (these identical in both volumes), and then almost a sonata by sonata account of the all the music on every disc, particularly in Volume II. There are also one or two ironic remarks about other musicologists to enjoy. Grante has made these notes available on his Facebook page (nothing 'historically informed' about that!), which anyone considering purchasing a volume can enjoy for free here.

Finally, there is an essay on Scarlatti's life by Eva Badura-Skoda, who owns the B÷sendorfer Grante plays. Amusingly, she reports as fact the episode related by Handel's first biographer, John Mainwaring, in which Scarlatti and Handel came together in Rome in the 'battle of the keyboards', whereas Grante describes it a few pages later as "more apocryphal - totally so, according to Graham Pont, the author of an article about the incident".

In a sentence, this is music of relentless originality in outstanding performances attractively packaged.

Byzantion

Music of relentless originality in outstanding performances attractively packaged.

 

Full Track Listing:

Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. I
CD1 [50:57]
Sonata in D minor, K.1 [2:32]
Sonata in G major, K.2 [2:23]
Sonata in A minor, K.3 [3:42]
Sonata in G minor, K.4 [2:51]
Sonata in D minor, K.5 [2:58]
Sonata in F major, K.6 [2:43]
Sonata in A minor, K.7 [4:38]
Sonata in G minor, K.8 [4:30]
Sonata in D minor, K.9 [3:54]
Sonata in D minor, K.10 [2:41]
Sonata in C minor, K.11 [2:50]
Sonata in G minor, K.12 [3:24]
Sonata in G major, K.13 [4:39]
Sonata in G major, K.14 [3:23]
Sonata in E minor, K.15 [2:58]
CD2 [64:14]
Sonata in B flat major, K.16 [5:19]
Sonata in F major, K.17 [5:22]
Sonata in D minor, K.18 [3:11]
Sonata in F minor, K.19 [3:47]
Sonata in E major, K.20 [3:35]
Sonata in D major, K.21 [5:28]
Sonata in C minor, K.22 [3:05]
Sonata in D major, K.23 [4:45]
Sonata in A major, K.24 [5:00]
Sonata in F sharp minor, K.25 [4:13]
Sonata in A major, K.26 [4:19]
Sonata in B minor, K.27 [3:14]
Sonata in E major, K.28 [3:32]
Sonata in D major, K.29 [5:13]
Sonata in G minor, K.30 [3:20]
CD3 [61:31]
Sonata in A minor, K.148 [4:59]
Sonata in A minor, K.149 [2:26]
Sonata in F major, K.150 [3:30]
Sonata in F major, K.151 [5:15]
Sonata in G major, K.152 [2:27]
Sonata in G major, K.153 [1:52]
Sonata in B flat major, K.154 [3:32]
Sonata in B flat major, K.155 [3:34]
Sonata in C major, K.156 [3:46]
Sonata in C major, K.157 [3:55]
Sonata in C minor, K.158 [7:52]
Sonata in C major, K.159 [2:24]
Sonata in D major, K.160 [5:21]
Sonata in D major, K.161 [3:47]
Sonata in E major, K.162 [5:59]
CD4 [73:51]
Sonata in E major, K.163 [2:19]
Sonata in D major, K.164 [6:58]
Sonata in C major, K.165 [4:43]
Sonata in C major, K.166 [3:22]
Sonata in F major, K.167 [5:33]
Sonata in F major, K.168 [4:02]
Sonata in G major, K.169 [4:52]
Sonata in C major, K.170 [7:19]
Sonata in G major, K.171 [2:56]
Sonata in B flat major, K.172 [6:15]
Sonata in B minor, K.173 [4:38]
Sonata in C minor, K.174 [4:44]
Sonata in A minor, K.175 [3:29]
Sonata in C minor, K.129 [3:15]
Sonata in D minor, K.176 [8:35]
CD5 [67:46]
Sonata in G minor, K.179 [3:22]
Sonata in G major, K.18 [3:31]
Sonata in G major, K.124 [5:57]
Sonata in G major, K.125 [2:25]
Sonata in D minor, K.138 [3:26]
Sonata in D major, K.137 [3:50]
Sonata in E major, K.134 [5:17]
Sonata in E major, K.135 [4:54]
Sonata in E major, K.136 [4:44]
Sonata in A major, K.181 [5:21]
Sonata in A major, K.182 [3:28]
Sonata in F minor, K.183 [4:53]
Sonata in F minor, K.184 [5:39]
Sonata in A major, K.11 [4:05]
Sonata in E major, K.46 [4:46]
CD6 [73:56]
Sonata in D minor, K.120 [4:07]
Sonata in D major, K.119 [6:15]
Sonata in F minor, K.185 [4:14]
Sonata in F minor, K.186 [2:48]
Sonata in F major, K.44 [6:00]
Sonata in A flat major, K.127 [6:06]
Sonata in A flat major, K.130 [3:13]
Sonata in F minor, K.187 [4:51]
Sonata in C minor, K.48 [3:54]
Sonata in C minor, K.56 [3:45]
Sonata in C minor, K.126 [6:09]
Sonata in F minor, K.69 [5:00]
Sonata in B minor, K.87 [6:26]
Sonata in B flat minor, K.128 [5:58]
Sonata in B flat minor, K.131 [4:17]

Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. II
CD1 [74:53]
Sonata in G major, K.55 [3:00]
Sonata in G major, K.104 [6:22]
Sonata in A minor, K.109 [8:49]
Sonata in A minor, K.110 [3:54]
Sonata in C major, K.49 [5:58]
Sonata in C minor, K.139 [4:02]
Sonata in G minor, K.43 [3:12]
Sonata in G minor, K.121 [4:34]
Sonata in D major, K.118 [5:19]
Sonata in D major, K.122 [5:18]
Sonata in B flat major, K.47 [5:17]
Sonata in B flat major, K.57 [6:47]
Sonata in C minor, K.115 [7:29]
Sonata in C minor, K.116 [4:21]
CD2 [71:56]
Sonata in F major, K.106 [3:21]
Sonata in F major, K.107 [4:54]
Sonata in G minor, K.111 [3:44]
Sonata in C minor, K.99 [5:43]
Sonata in E minor, K.98 [2:57]
Sonata in A minor, K.54 [4:55]
Sonata in E flat major, K.123 [4:03]
Sonata in F minor, K.50 [5:29]
Sonata in B flat major, K.112 [4:22]
Sonata in G major, K.105 [5:38]
Sonata in D major, K.140 [4:25]
Sonata in A major, K.101 [4:31]
Sonata in A major, K.114 [5:08]
Sonata in C major, K.100 [2:35]
Sonata in D major, K.96 [5:29]
Sonata in D minor, K.41 [4:10]
CD3 [78:35]
Sonata in A major, K.208 [3:46]
Sonata in A major, K.209 [4:19]
Sonata in G major, K.210 [3:53]
Sonata in G minor, K.196 [2:52]
Sonata in A minor, K.188 [5:55]
Sonata in A major, K.211 [8:30]
Sonata in A major, K.212 [3:20]
Sonata in G major, K.201 [3:51]
Sonata in B minor, K.197 [6:49]
Sonata in B flat major, K.189 [4:23]
Sonata in B flat major, K.190 [3:05]
Sonata in B flat major, K.202 [5:05]
Sonata in D minor, K.213 [8:34]
Sonata in D major, K.214 [5:06]
Sonata in D minor, K.191 [3:36]
Sonata in E flat major, K.192 [4:58]
CD4 [78:18]
Sonata in E flat major, K.193 [5:04]
Sonata in F major, K.194 [6:28]
Sonata in F major, K.195 [4:12]
Sonata in E minor, K.198 [3:02]
Sonata in E minor, K.203 [4:50]
Sonata in F minor, K.204a [6:43]
Sonata in F minor, K.204b [5:05]
Sonata in F major, K.205 [8:49]
Sonata in E major, K.215 [7:53]
Sonata in E major, K.216 [5:44]
Sonata in A minor, K.217 [10:38]
Sonata in A minor, K.218 [2:49]
Sonata in A major, K.219 [6:37]
CD5 [78:15]
Sonata in A major, K.220 [5:12]
Sonata in E major, K.206 [11:25]
Sonata in E major, K.207 [3:09]
Sonata in A major, K.221 [4:39]
Sonata in A major, K.222 [2:44]
Sonata in C major, K.132 [8:22]
Sonata in C major, K.133 [4:02]
Sonata in D major, K.223 [4:30]
Sonata in D major, K.224 [3:22]
Sonata in C major, K.225 [5:23]
Sonata in C minor, K.226 [3:50]
Sonata in B minor, K.227 [5:23]
Sonata in G minor, K.108 [3:44]
Sonata in B flat major, K.228 [3:45]
Sonata in B flat major, K.229 [4:09]
Sonata in C minor, K.230 [4:06]
CD6 [72:07]
Sonata in C major, K.231 [4:52]
Sonata in E minor, K.232 [6:46]
Sonata in E minor, K.233 [4:53]
Sonata in G minor, K.234 [6:30]
Sonata in G major, K.235 [4:35]
Sonata in F minor, K.238 [4:15]
Sonata in F minor, K.239 [3:38]
Sonata in G major, K.240 [9:36]
Sonata in G major, K.241 [2:45]
Sonata in C major, K.242 [4:20]
Sonata in C major, K.243 [3:54]
Sonata in B major, K.244 [3:59]
Sonata in B major, K.245 [3:37]
Sonata in C sharp minor, K.246 [3:29]
Sonata in C sharp minor, K.247 [4:27]

K. numbers are from Ralph Kirkpatrick's 1953 catalogue of works. The numbers in brackets refer to manuscript sources: E = Essercizi per gravicembalo (published in London, 1738 or 1739); P = from the Palatina National Library at Parma, Italy, plus volume number (if any).