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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Keyboard Sonatas

Claire Huangci (piano)
rec. 2014, Sendesaal Bremen.
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300603BC [66:33 + 64:12]

Domenico Scarlatti is credited with 555 keyboard sonatas, and Claire Huangci has approached this daunting prospect by grouping sets of these pieces into suites or sonatas. The starting point for these groupings is initially with regard to related key signatures, but Huangci has further selected appropriate dance forms for her Baroque ‘suites’ on CD 1, and in a more Classical ‘sonata’ structure for CD 2, with pieces which have references between them and can tell a “narrative, like the sonatas of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven”.

This all works very well indeed, and the risk of having longer sequences of sonatas in the same key is rescued by the contrasts in character between them. Listening casually you may not even notice these divisions, and the emphasis is more on the quality of the performances.

Claire Huangci was a child prodigy with an international performing career from the age of nine, and in the booklet she describes discovering Scarlatti when, “once in a blue moon my weekly tutelage of Bach was broadened to experience other composers.” You can read more about the background to Huangci and this Scarlatti recording in Stan Metzger’s excellent interview with her over on our Seen and Heard International pages.

Huangci’s performances are delightfully light and playful, with a kind of incidental virtuosity which always raises a smile – in the service of the composer and the music but breathtaking nevertheless. The expression in the slower sonatas is also rather special. Huangci allows the music to speak with the greatest of clarity, with flexible phrasing and elegant dynamics within the most solid of rhythmic bases. She doesn’t ham things up romantically but remains idiomatically true to her instrument, making no attempt to imitate a harpsichord while at the same time keeping everything compact and with its own ineffable logic. Pedalling is kept to a tasteful minimum, used with some moments of legato expression and chord building but maintaining that essential clarity which is a hallmark of these performances. The same goes for ornamentation, with extra frills and trills very much a background bonus rather than something made a technical meal of.

There are a few attractive Scarlatti programmes around played on piano, including Yevgeny Sudbin and Peter Katin, but one of my main all-time references has for long been Mikhail Pletnev on Virgin Classics (review), and these recordings still retain something rather magical. Claire Huangci’s recordings are comparable in recorded perspective, but Pletnev’s extra layer of steely clarity contrasts with her warmer but still vibrant approach. If you have minimal shelf space and a tight budget then Pletnev is still a top choice, but I would now put Claire Huangci right up there alongside him. The way I hear it her expressiveness is more all-embracing where Pletnev is more pianistic. Pletnev’s playfulness is done with a knowing wink, where Huangci’s has a disarming innocence which removes that added layer of artfulness. Pletnev’s spectacular technique is multi-layered and tremendously effective and entertaining but Huangci pulls the music around less and doesn’t play to the crowd. That feeling of a one-to-one musical experience has its own very special value. There is some overlap between the two programmes but if you are a Scarlatti enthusiast then you will want to have and keep both sets.

Dominy Clements

Contents List

CD 1
Suite in G major
Keyboard Sonata K13 in G major [4:07]
Keyboard Sonata K124 in G major [2:31]
Keyboard Sonata K125 in G major [2:02]
Keyboard Sonata K144 in G major [4:46]
Keyboard Sonata K454 in G major [2:18]
Keyboard Sonata K470 in G major [2:53]
Keyboard Sonata K284 in G major [1:52]
Suite in G minor
Keyboard Sonata K450 in G minor [3:21]
Keyboard Sonata K4 in G minor [3:25]
Keyboard Sonata in G minor, K76 [2:03]
Keyboard Sonata K8 in G minor [4:17]
Keyboard Sonata K35 in G minor [2:22]
Keyboard Sonata K31 in G minor [1:59]
Keyboard Sonata K108 in G minor [2:26]
Keyboard Sonata K476 in G minor [3:09]
Suite in D major
Keyboard Sonata K435 in D major [3:10]
Keyboard Sonata K140 in D major [3:58]
Keyboard Sonata K32 in D minor [2:31]
Keyboard Sonata K491 in D major [2:33]
Keyboard Sonata K490 in D major [5:46]
Keyboard Sonata K397 in D major [2:35]
Keyboard Sonata K278 in D major [2:25]

CD 2
Sonata in E major
Keyboard Sonata K206 in E major [4:57]
Keyboard Sonata K322 in A major [2:57]
Keyboard Sonata K135 in E major [3:58]
Sonata in F major
Keyboard Sonata K518 in F major [4:42]
Keyboard Sonata K213 in D minor [3:44]
Keyboard Sonata K6 in F major [2:24]
Sonata in A minor
Keyboard Sonata K175 in A minor [3:41]
Keyboard Sonata K296 in F major [5:10]
Keyboard Sonata K61 in A minor [2:44]
Sonata in D major
Keyboard Sonata K443 in D major [4:46]
Keyboard Sonata K208 in A major [3:44]
Keyboard Sonata K29 in D major [4:49]
Sonata in G major
Keyboard Sonata K260 in G major [5:41]
Keyboard Sonata K deest in G minor [2:46]
Keyboard Sonata K146 in G major [3:05]
Keyboard Sonata K427 in G major [2:13]

Keyboard Sonata K513 in C major [2:49]



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