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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonatas
CD 1: Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord) [61:44]
CD 2: Michelangalo Carbonara (piano) [67:03]
CD 3: Luigi Attademo (guitar) [51:43]
CD 4: Godelieve Schrama (harp) [70:10]
CD 5: Mie Miki (accordion) [71:10]
See below for track details
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94613 [5CDs: 5:03:50]

Enjoyment of music is invariably enhanced by listening to alternative versions. This may strengthen a preference for the original, or discover one that supplants it. When music is transcribed/arranged for instruments other than the original for which it was written, or solo music adapted for orchestra, it takes on a whole new dimension of interest and potential appeal.
 
The review disc is a case in point: music written originally for solo keyboard, principally harpsichord, is presented on the original instrument along with piano, guitar, harp, and accordion. From the total opera of more than five hundred Scarlatti Sonatas, 83 have been selected: harpsichord (16); piano (21); guitar (13); harp (14); accordion (19).

None of the extant manuscripts for these sonatas are in the hand of Scarlatti; only copies survive. Interestingly, only one bears an actual name: K30 is called the Cat’s Fugue, but not by the composer. It was presumably dreamt up by Clementi at the end of the 18th century, inspired by the random intervals sounding as though a cat was walking across the keyboard. This is a good, if not a true story.
 
Those familiar with the music of Scarlatti will be aware of the three different cataloguing and numbering systems for these sonatas: Ralph Kirkpatrick, K (1953); Alessandro Longo, L (1906); Giorgio Pestelli, P (1967). The current set follows Kirkpatrick.
 
One admirable aspect of this set is that in each instance, accordion excepted, details of the instrument(s) used on the CD are supplied. The CDs are also produced, sonically, to the highest standards, and have added presence on quality reproducing systems.
 
CD 1
Sonatas K520- K535 (16)
rec. Spring 2007, Doopsgezinde Remonstrantse Kerk, Deventer, The Netherlands
 
Pieter-Jan Belder was born in Holland in 1966 and is not only a highly respected harpsichordist, but also a conductor. He won the Leipzig Bach Harpsichord Competition in 2000. This CD is taken from a set of thirty-six recorded by Belder and representing the entire Scarlatti Sonatas for keyboard.
 
In the grouping of five CDs, this disc has the advantage of representing the original instrument for which the music was written. Astute ears, listening on high quality reproducing equipment, will become aware that two different instruments were employed in the recording of these 16 sonatas.
 
One less appealing aspect of the disc is that no consideration to tempo was given in the programming, as the disc is just extracted from an entire chronological set. All sonatas, except one, have similar tempo markings: Allegro or derivatives. The net effect of this is to induce a ‘sameness’ when listening to the CD, sequentially, from first to last track.
 
There is much to accolade and little to criticise in Belder’s performance here. He reflects an intimate empathy for the music and embraces all aspects of it with a very open, fresh sound, complemented by the high sonic quality of the recording. It is the kind of performance that would encourage investment in his complete set.
 
CD 2
K158; K461; K124; K308; K50; K544; K135; K497; K219; K312; K109; K319; K349; K270; K184; K147; K82; K193; K61; K262; K247.
rec. 12-14 May 2009, ‘Al Casaletto - Ancelle della carita’, Rome
 
Of the four instruments presented in this set that employ strings, the piano is the odd one out, being essentially percussive rather than plucked. This difference may be compounded when historically informed performance (HIP) is taken into account, and makes for an absolute minefield when evaluating these sonatas played on the modern piano, relative to the original instrument.
 
If one is totally preoccupied with Scarlatti’s phrasings, abrupt rhythmic changes, his harmonic textures, a more restricted range of sonorities and colours, and playing without a pedal, then probably a modern piano and approach to playing Scarlatti is not acceptable. This attitude will be strengthened by slavish preference for HIP, although a modern instrument does not preclude a musician implementing these principles.
 
Some musicians have tried to bridge this gulf by utilizing period instruments such as the square piano, a box-shaped household instrument that flourished in England in the early 19th century. Pianist, Joanna Leach has recorded a number of Scarlatti Sonatas on such an instrument, with enjoyable results.
 
Somewhere in the middle of all this controversy are some of the great pianists who, partly influenced by the time during which they lived, are less controversial and more accepted in their interpretation of these sonatas by the pedant. Only the intrepid would be emphatic about who should be included, but certainly Horowitz and Michelangeli have garnered favour. One listener described Dinu Lupatti’s renditions of Scarlatti Sonatas as: “a brief glimpse of eternity”. 
Michelangeli was sensitive to the spirit of the originals and demonstrated efforts to play them in period style. His rendition of K27 in B Minor [2:34] is a good example of this sonata played atypically quickly, presumably avoiding any propensity to the Romanticism displayed by some modern interpreters.
 
Modern pianists are criticised for a myriad of sins when rendering these pieces: highly personalised interpretations that disregard HIP, such as Romanticising the slower sonatas, and excessive use of the pedal.
 
Born in Salerno in 1979, Michelangelo Carbonara is a musician of significant repute. He has won 17 prizes in international piano competitions, including the Schubert International Competition, Dortmund. This disc is taken from a 2CD set previously issued by Brilliant Classics.
 
Fortunately the programming caters for fluctuations in tempo, and this helps avoid the sense of ‘sameness’ heard on the first disc, and not uncommon in recordings of this repertory.
 
This is a highly capable performance of these masterpieces for keyboard and the reactions of those who prefer this music on piano will centre on subtle aspects of the execution. While it is not this reviewer’s preferred version of these sonatas, it has a lot to offer, will please many, and offend few.
 
CD 3
K377; K208; K209; K32; K77; K34; K291; K292; K87; K481; K476; K213
rec. 8-10 March, 1998, Jambling Studio, Italy.
 
Luigi Attademo born in 1972, graduated from Turin’s G. Verdi Conservatory in 1992, gaining highest marks in a Performance degree. He has studied with such luminaries as Angelo Gilardino, Oscar Ghiglia and David Russell.
 
This recording is taken from the original by Attademo (Brilliant Classics 9125).
 
Those familiar with Scarlatti’s Sonatas will readily recognize the frequent Spanish dance rhythms and folk tunes with a Moorish and gypsy-like flavour. One may also hear castanets, and flamenco harmonies typical of the Phrygian mode that doubtless influenced Scarlatti during his decades on the Iberian peninsula. It may also explain, in part, the amenability of the sonatas to being played on the guitar, and why such adaptations have become a staple of the guitar repertory. That said, all the sonatas are not adaptable to the guitar; some are beyond its technical reach. In 1994 Claudio Giuliani published two volumes of Scarlatti sonatas arranged for guitar, representing a total of 82 that he deemed to fit reasonably within the range of the guitar.

Luigi Attademo is a fine performer whose renditions of these sonatas offers a lot to be admired.
 
Although the programme gives consideration to tempi, the faster are dominant. It also includes the only two-part Sonata: K77.
 
Despite the variations in tempo, sameness, experienced on other discs of this presentation also pervades this performance. Attademo has a robust and round tone, one more akin to playing with flesh than a nail/flesh combination. Unfortunately he misses an important opportunity to add variety of colour and emulate the original instrument: he does not employ ponticello sounds closer to the bridge. One has only to listen to the rendition of Sonata K380 by Presti and Lagoya (Nonesuch H-71161) to see how utilization of this technique changes the whole perception of the music; a subtle reminder of its origins is of no disadvantage.
 
Included also are two sonatas, K208 and K209 that are common to the harp programme on disc 4.
 
This facilitates an added dimension of comparison and interest when comparing the effects of transcribing these sonatas for other instruments.
 
CD 4
K124; K125; K27; K208; K209; K9; K K420; K421; K420; K421; K402; K403; K511; K213; K214
rec. 5-7 May 1997, Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, Renswoude, The Netherlands.
 
Godelieve Schrama is a Dutch harpist who plays the entire harp repertory. She is renowned for mastery of the various playing styles down to the minutest detail. In 1996 she was awarded the Dutch Music Prize for her work. This is the highest distinction conferred on classical musicians in The Netherlands.
 
Of the five instruments presented in this set, four rely on strings for their operation, albeit in significantly different formats of function. Only the guitar and harp allow the player intimate, direct contact with the strings by both hands. While the original music could justifiably claim supremacy of execution on the keyboard for which it was written, the harp certainly exhibits a unique affinity and suitability for this repertory.
 
The programme includes two sonatas, K208 and K209 that are also included in the guitar programme. K27 (3) and K213 (13) are also found in the general guitar repertory, again indicating an adaptability of this music for plucked instruments outside the original. It is also fair to say that there are moments in K209 (5) that one could easily be under the illusion of listening to a guitar.
 
Schrama is not the only player using the harp to execute these sonatas but she does it with a style and class that is well above the general field. Although the majority of the sonatas here are of rapid tempo, the colours and tonal shadings of the harp evoke a sense of variety and lack of sameness. 
 
Is this true to the originals and to HIP? That’s a matter for listeners to judge, but it sounds great and personally that’s what music is all about, not academic excellence in sameness.
 
It is evident from this programme that each individual musician has his or her own concept of appropriate tempi and of how the markings Scarlatti provided should be interpreted.
 
The version here of K 209 (Allegro) is played in [5:07]; the guitar version on disc 3 is played in [5:14]. Piano versions of K27 (Allegro) by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli [2:47] [2:34], Emil Gilels [4:56] [4:15] and Yevgeny Sudbin [3:42], compare with the harp version here of [4:29] and guitar [3:32].
 
For those who may never have heard these sonatas played on the harp, this will provide
an interesting, enlightening and musically rewarding experience. On the chosen instrument it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a superior alternative.
 
CD 5
K6; K10; K78; K159; K52; K141; K9; K24; K98; K394; K184; K183; K519; K288; K310; K247; K63; K107; K1
rec. 1-3 September 1997, Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, Renswoude, The Netherlands.
 
The accordion is an instrument on which one infrequently hears Scarlatti sonatas played.
 
Mie Miki is again not the only musician undertaking this activity, but one of outstanding musicality and superior technical skills.
 
Mie Miki was born in Tokyo in 1956. She began her studies of the accordion at the age of four and during the intervening period has had more than fifty solo and chamber works written for her.
 
From 1996 she was honorary professor at the Folkwang University, Duisburg. Since Octobe 2003 she has been Professor of Accordion at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen.
 
Of the five instruments represented in this set, the accordion is the only one devoid of strings. The absence of string overtones and sympathetic vibrations results in distinctive, lucid sound here complemented by the excellent recording; it also allows another ‘acoustic vision’ into the texture of the music, and the various parts.
 
The initial reaction on hearing this CD is akin to that of hearing Piazzolla Tangos on a recorder (Michala Petri: Our Recordings 8 226900), or if accustomed to hearing saxophone playing jazz, the first experience of hearing it in a classical music context: in known territory: everything sounds unfamiliar and disorientated.
 
Another surprise awaits those who have not heard Scarlatti sonatas played by Akin Unver on a multi-stringed instrument called the chapman stick (listen). This is further illustration of the versatility, quality and adaptability of this music.
 
If your hi-fi set is of sufficient standard, the mechanical sounds of the accordion buttons will be clearly audible. Some may find this distracting in the same way that the fingers moving on the bass strings of the guitar create squeaking sounds. Despite the common belief that this is a deficiency in technique, in reality it is an intrinsic part of the guitar and to some degree present on all guitar recordings, even by the Maestros.
 
This set offers a unique and spell-binding adventure into the sonatas of Scarlatti.  


Zane Turner 




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