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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Keyboard Sonatas – Volume 17
Sean Kennard (piano)
rec. September 2015, Morse Recital Hall, Yale School of Music, New Haven
NAXOS 8.573708 [54:01]

Eri Mantani (piano)
rec. May 2016, Konzerthaus Abtei Marenmünster, Germany
MDG 9041987-6 SACD [77:52]

18 Sonatas
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
rec. July 2014/15, St George’s, Bristol
BIS BIS-2138 SACD [74:30]

The keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti have attracted the attention of pianists using the modern grand for decades, Vladimir Horowitz being perhaps the most prominent early advocate of these wonderful “miniatures”. Indeed, it would seem that there are as many performances on the piano as there are on harpsichord. Nor have I read comments suggesting that such a modern instrument is not appropriate for this music, as I have done for performances of Bach on the piano.

The Naxos and MDG releases are brand new, the BIS from last year and has already been reviewed with glowing praise on this site. I chose to include it here by way of providing the stiffest of competition for Kennard and Mantani. Naxos is making very slow progress in its traverse through the complete sonatas - Volume 1 was released in the late 1990s – and as with their Liszt cycle, they are using different pianists for most volumes. The MDG release makes no suggestion that it is anything other than a one-off, while the BIS is Sudbin’s second Scarlatti recital, but the previous one was his debut in 2005, so again, there is no suggestion of a series. Given that there are in excess of 550 extant Scarlatti sonatas, it is not entirely surprising that there are no repeats among these three programmes, numbering 57 works in total.

Sean Kennard is an American in his early thirties; he was a Laureate at the 2013 Queen Elisabeth Competition. Amongst the three, his choice of works was inevitably restricted by the sixteen previous volumes. Kennard has chosen to adopt a style of playing which is faithful to the instrument for which these works were written, meaning that he maintains a fairly limited dynamic range. While I can understand the reasons for this, such a style is best suited to the harpsichord; for me, if you choose to play Baroque music on the grand piano, you should at least use some of its capacity (without making the music sound like Liszt). However, this style, allied with the presence of only one minor key work among the eighteen and only two that are not marked Allegro (or faster) make this a programme with limited variety, so that one’s concentration tends to wander. Further, there seems no good reason why the running time is so niggardly. It is not as though they have run out of works to record. The sound quality is good, without extraneous noises; the booklet notes adequate: I presume the biographical information is used through the whole series, while the comments on each work are restricted to a sentence on the style. I am forced to conclude that unless you are collecting this series, it isn’t really a good purchase, even at the budget price, which is partly negated by the run time anyway.

Eri Mantani is Japanese (which would explain the presence of this language in the booklet), now resident in Germany. Her debut recording, for a minor label, was very different: Liszt and Enescu. Her choice of works is a little more varied than Kennard’s, and her playing has considerably more dynamism. With four slow sonatas in excess of six minutes, she has a chance to display a pleasingly poetical approach. The B minor K87 is very fine. The piano sound is cooler and a little more distant than Kennard’s. The booklet notes concentrate on the more general aspects of his works, in their different periods. So, a definite upgrade on the Naxos, but …

And so to the big name: Yevgeny Sudbin has been a star for BIS since his first Scarlatti recording (review), recording Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Liszt and others. His very different approach is immediately obvious: there is no attempt to make this sound as if it is being played on a harpsichord. In his very well-written and thoughtful notes, Sudbin talks about playing these works on a grand piano as being essentially an act of transcription, transforming the works to suit the modern instrument “without distorting the original ideas”. I feel that he has succeeded brilliantly in this: interpretation, not just playing the notes. The pieces come alive in a way that doesn’t happen in the Kennard recording, and only at times with Mantani.

David Barker

Previous review (Sudbin): Dominy Clements

Sonata in D Major, K.400/L.213/P.228 [2:22]
Sonata in G Major, K.374/L.76/P.472 [1:55]
Sonata in G Major, K.372/L.302/P.402 [2:06]
Sonata in G Major, K.325/L.37/P.451 [2:00]
Sonata in G Major, K.521/L.408/P.492 [4:06]
Sonata in G Major, K.477/L.290/P.419 [3:45]
Sonata in C Major, K.527/L.458/P.531 [3:53]
Sonata in F Major, K.355/L.S22/P.344 [2:25]
Sonata in F Major, K.468/L.226/P.507 [2:48]
Sonata in F Major, K.445/L.385/P.468 [3:08]
Sonata in F Minor, K.386/L.171/P.137 [2:49]
Sonata in F Major, K.543/L.227/P.547 [4:11]
Sonata in B-Flat Major, K.311/L.144/P.227 [1:51]
Sonata in A Major, K.342/L.191/P.341 [2:24]
Sonata in D Major, K.512/L.339/P.359 [2:35]
Sonata in D Major, K.490/L.206/P.476 [4:06]
Sonata in F Major, K.506/L.70/P.409 [2:37]
Sonata in F Major, K.418/L.26/P.510 [3:39]

Sonata K438 in F major [4:02]
Sonata K239 in f minor [3:41]
Sonata K513 in C major [2:54]
Sonata K44 in F major [6:01]
Sonata K474 in E flat major [6:02]
Sonata K475 in E flat major [4:30]
Sonata K432 in G major [2:25]
Sonata K87 in b minor [6:30]
Sonata K245 in b minor [3:16]
Sonata K447 in f sharp minor [3:24]
Sonata K322 in A major [3:43]
Sonata K323 in A major [2:31]
Sonata K492 in D major [3:32]
Sonata K455 in G major [3:25]
Sonata K478 in D major [8:28]
Sonata K435 in D major [3:52]
Sonata K78 in F major [2:17]
Sonata K427 in G major [2:16]
Sonata K135 in E major [4:50]

Sonata in D minor, 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 479 [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]



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