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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in D major, K 417, ‘Fuga’ [3:37]
Sonata in A major, K 208 [3:53]
Sonata in C major, K 159 [2:29]
Sonata in C minor, K 56 [3:36]
Sonata in D minor, K 213 [7:11]
Sonata in G major, K 125 [2:12]
Sonata in G minor, K 373 [2:12]
Sonata in D major, K 119 [5:16]
Sonata in F minor, K 69 [5:09]
Sonata in G major, K 425 [2:46]
Sonata in D major, K 29 [5:03]
Sonata in C minor, K 99 [7:02]
Sonata in G minor, K 12 [3:05]
Sonata in D major, K 429 [4:32]
Sonata in D minor, K 9 [2:43]
Sonata in F sharp major, K 318 [6:06]
Sonata in D minor, K 141 [3:08]
Sonata in D minor, K 32, ‘Aria’ [2:29]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
rec. 2014-15, St George’s, Bristol.
BIS BIS-2138 [74:30]

This is Yevgeny Sudbin’s second foray into the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, the first of which can be found on BISCD1508. This recording, made ten years prior to the current one, is also very good indeed. It would be nice to be able to say he has evolved around this composer but without AB comparisons of the same works this is hard to gauge. I would say that he has, if his treatment of faster transitional passages is any measure. Still superbly played, he arguably steamed through sonatas such as K 365 without much of a sideways glance, where there seems to be more going on with a more recent K 159 as an example picked more or less at random. Dynamic subtleties, a range of touch and even some pictorial pedalling add to create something fascinatingly engrossing in these and other miniature masterpieces. As one would hope there are no duplications between these two releases, so they are entirely complementary. Sudbin’s booklet notes for this release are extensive and full of fact and first-hand familiarity with these works.

Scarlatti on piano has popped up frequently in recent decades, and Sudbin is of the school that an up-to-date pianistic approach is desirable. In his booklet notes he argues that “the music has to be transformed and adjusted to the modern instrument and one has to make conscious decisions about how to do this without distorting the original idea.” Only Scarlatti himself would really be able to tell us if he considered the Busoni-like conclusion to K 417 to be too much of a distortion, but whatever you think there can be no real argument that Sudbin’s performances of these and other super-quick sonatas such as K 56 are anything less than hugely invigorating.

Sudbin’s touch in the gentler sonatas, such as K 213 is all the more of a contrast to the excitement elsewhere, and he turns these into moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty. He keeps everything simple where simplicity is required, adding the occasional extra octave in the bass to reinforce the occasional harmonic or counter-melodic point, but in these cases such mild intrusions are done with tasteful restraint. The recording, made in the superb acoustic of St George’s Bristol, is of demonstration quality – crisply detailed, but set at a perfect distance and with just the right balance between definition and atmosphere.

Comparisons can be had all over the place, but the most recent Scarlatti programme I’ve had for review has been that of Claire Huangci on Berlin Classics (see review). You think Sudbin is fast in K 125, and then Huangci comes along and shaves another ten seconds off the timing. There aren’t too many overlaps between these collections, K 29 being another example in which Huangci trumps Sudbin by a few seconds while avoiding sounding rushed. Huangci doesn’t linger too much over the slower sonatas, creating a more lyrical mood where Sudbin finds a wide variety of pianistic colour in a sonata such as K 318. Sudbin by no means makes me want to abandon Huangci, but he is prepared to open that drawer of tools filled with “the richness of the many styles available throughout the history of music” just that little bit further.

Another recent Scarlatti piano release has been that from Angela Hewitt on the Hyperion label (see review). Comparing doubled K numbers Hewitt is much more gentle and poetic with K 9, adding well over a minute to Sudbin’s brisker timing. Her K 159 is about as sprightly as Sudbin’s and her K 141 is fiery enough, though not as fiercely fast as Sudbin. K 69 is a gently flowing paradise of notes from both Hewitt and Sudbin, the latter giving a little more stretch to his expressive melodic line. Here the equivalent K numbers end, but in general Sudbin is harder-edged with his tone and more extrovert with the faster pieces, and Hewitt is less likely to storm into pianistic extra octaves, sounding more contained and sometimes slower than one would expect but still filled with oodles of tasteful expressiveness, sublime touch, and plenty of inner energy. If asked to choose between these I wouldn’t be able to as I love both in equal measure, but if you want the full range of spectacular virtuosity and poetic depth then you won’t go wrong with Yevgeny Sudbin.

Dominy Clements



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