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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas - Volume 5
Parma Books 12-14 (1755-56)
Carlo Grante (Bosendörfer Imperial Piano)
rec. Studio Glanzing, Vienna, 2016
MUSIC AND ARTS CD-1294 [5 CDs: 382:15]

Carlo Grante’s systematic exploration of Scarlatti’s complete keyboard sonatas, one of the more Herculean recorded efforts of our time, has now reached volume 5. You can read a couple of my previous reviews here: Volume 1 and Volume 4.

The remarkable thing is there is no diminution of Grante’s pleasure in – or appetite for – presenting Scarlatti in this way to the public: in the freshness of the writing, in Scarlatti’s harmonies, his integration of Spanish dance rhythms, in his more outlandish devices, and in some of more extended and explicitly melancholy sonatas. In this 5-CD set we have the Parma manuscripts Books 12, 13 and 14, composed between 1755 and 1756; 90 sonatas in total. Grante’s extensive notes, which draw upon the work of scholars as well as his own practical and musicological experience, provide the perfect background for his performances on the ever-present Bosendörfer Imperial piano. And having Colin Tilney as artistic consultant is luxury casting.

Yet again it’s hard to pick highlights from this set and doing so is merely to suggest the consistent excellence of performances and recording. But I hope it also suggests the sheer variety to be heard in these sonata pairings, ones that reflect on each other in vital and interesting ways. So, amongst the very many aerial, avian and dance-patterned pleasures to be encountered you’ll find the cuckoo motif in Parma 12:1, the witty changes in 12:4, the rarefied, almost antique feel to the fugato in 12:5, the caprice Grante finds in a well-established recital favourite such as 12:9, the lively figuration of 12:11, the pensive 12:16 or the brilliantine rapidity of 12:17 (but with subtlety of voicings intact) and the dapper bass pointing that drives the dance patterning of 12:20.

If you want a charming pastoral Sicilienne turn to 12:25, so supple and perfectly weighted. If you prefer an accumulation of syncopation and canons try 12:26, or if your yen is to discover encoded references to Bach’s Partita No.3 in A minor, lend an ear to 12:30. Scarlatti often employed the Jota as you’ll hear in 13:11 (you won’t always need Falla for the Jota) and should Albéniz’s guitar evocations ever pall go back to the source with Parma 13:7. Scarlatti’s beloved asymmetry in some of these works is perhaps best exemplified in 13:8 which makes the succeeding sonata’s melancholia all the more striking. He was the master of conjunction, the prince of the harmonic or expressive surprise.

Parma 13:13 is another example of an extended slow movement packing a deep punch although 13:16 offers instead a heady quasi-improvisatory sonata replete with a mine-deep bass. You’ll find Classicism explored in 13:18 and a military cut to 13:24. The street-scene painting of 13:30, complete with cries and calls, is a potent example of characterisation and 14:4 is one of those tour-de-forces that enable Grante to bring the music vividly to life with the ultimate in brio. By contrast the long, songful 14:7 and the trumpet fanfares of 14:8 offer more by way of immediate contrast. Parma 14:8 reflects Scarlatti’s penchant for exploring Baroque procedure and in 14:23 he is positively skittish.

Grante is a tirelessly creative guide to this repertoire and in every way – performance, instrument, recording, and documentation - this volume lives up to the high standards set in the preceding four.

Jonathan Woolf



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