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Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725): "Toccatas" (Complete Keyboard Works Vol. 1)

Alexander Weimann, harpsichord

rec: October 14 - 17, 2003, Saint-Alphonse, Église Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez
ATMA - ACD 2 2321 (© 2005) (73'03")

Follia; Toccata in d minor; Toccata in e minor; Toccata in F; Toccata in F; Toccata in G; Toccata in G; Toccata I in G; Toccata in g minor; Toccata in a minor; Toccata d'ottava stesa

Right now the music of Alessandro Scarlatti is getting more attention than ever before, but musicians are still very selective in what they are performing. One part of Scarlatti's oeuvre that is widely neglected is his keyboard music. Alexander Weimann is not the first to pay attention to this genre: the Italian keyboard player and director of the Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini, devoted a disc to Scarlatti's keyboard works. But Weimann is the first who is planning to record all of them, because, as he writes in the booklet, "as a composer for the keyboard, Alessandro Scarlatti ... deserves the same respect that we show for his vocal works." That statement is in strong contrast to the verdict of Malcolm Boyd in New Grove: "One would hardly recognize the father of Domenico Scarlatti from the keyboard works that have survived, most of which seem to have acted as pupil fodder." It is perhaps a negative view like this which has prevented Alessandro Scarlatti's keyboard works from becoming standard repertoire for modern keyboard players.

This disc concentrates on Scarlatti's toccatas, which are different in character. Some toccatas contain several sections, which are distinguished by contrasting tempo indications. Other pieces are called 'toccata' after the first movement, which is mostly followed by a fugue and one or two other movements, including dances like corrente and minuetto.

Many pieces are very virtuosic, and the most striking example is the first item on this disc, the Toccata d'ottava stesa, which contains some passages which are almost impossible to play. No less virtuosic are the 29 variations on the famous ostinato bass, known as Follia. Striking are the use of acciaccature which creates some strong dissonances, and the abrupt ending without returning to the original key. Acciaccature are also used in the Toccata in a minor.

Scarlatti's keyboard works are mostly connected to the past, like the Toccata in g minor. Stylistically it can be compared with the toccate all'elevazione which were so popular in the 17th century, and which made use of durezze (harsh sounds) and ligature (notes to be played legato). Especially interesting from the perspective of performance practice is the Toccata I in G, in which Scarlatti gives indications in regard to fingering. These are conflicting, but "some parts do not differ from modern fingerings" (Alexander Weimann).

As these compositions contain frequent arpeggios they seem to be written for the harpsichord. But some can also be played at the organ, as Weimann writes in the booklet: "There are hints that everything that is played arpeggio on the harpsichord should be played tenuto on the organ".

The fact that Alessandro Scarlatti's keyboard works have circulated throughout Europe and have been found even in North-American archives indicates that contemporaries did more agree with Alexander Weimann than with Malcolm Boyd in regard to the quality of Scarlatti's keyboard works. And Weimann's plea for this music is very convincing and eloquent. His playing is technically brilliant, and his interpretation bold, imaginative and tasteful. I am curious what the next volumes are going to bring. We should be thankful to Alexander Weimann for taking the initiative to record all of Alessandro Scarlatti's keyboard works. Listening to this music one does recognize the father of Domenico Scarlatti. Moreover this recording colours the blank pages in the history of Italian keyboard music between Frescobaldi and Domenico Scarlatti.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

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