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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 - 1757): Keyboard sonatas

[I] "The Well-Tempered Scarlatti"
Mario Martinoli, harpsichord
rec: June 15 - 17, 2011, Presciano, Chiesa di San Pietro
Et'cetera - KTC 1915 ( 2015) (71'11")
Liner-notes: E/F/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata in C (K 407); Sonata in c minor (K 226); Sonata in c sharp minor (K 246); Sonata in D (K 535); Sonata in d minor (K 32); Sonata in E (K 531); Sonata in E flat (K 253); Sonata in e minor (K 203); Sonata in F (K 554); Sonata in F sharp (K 319); Sonata in f minor (K 555); Sonata in f sharp minor (K 67); Sonata in G (K 455); Sonata in g minor (K 426); Sonata in A (K 65); Sonata in a minor (K 532); Sonata in b minor (K 87); Sonata in B (K 262); Sonata in B flat (K 472); Sonata in b flat minor (K 131)

[II] "Sonatas"
Johannes Maria Bogner, clavichord
rec: Feb 28 - March 1, 2015, Kartause Mauerbach
fra bernardo - fb 1513497 ( 2015) (73'12")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata in C (K 132); Sonata in C (K 133); Sonata in C (K 513); Sonata in D (K 119); Sonata in d minor (K 32); Sonata in d minor (K 141); Sonata in E flat (K 193); Sonata in f minor (K 184); Sonata in f minor (K 185); Sonata in f minor (K 238); Sonata in f minor (K 239); Sonata in g minor (K 30); Sonata in A (K 208); Sonata in A (K 209); Sonata in a minor (K 175)


The keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti belong to the core repertoire of harpsichordists and pianists alike. Considering the large number of sonatas which have come down to us - 555 in the Kirkpatrick catalogue and a number of sonatas which have been discovered since he put his catalogue together - it is rather disappointing that many discs include the same sonatas. That also goes for one of the two discs reviewed here, but as Johannes Maria Bogner chose the clavichord for his recording that is less of a problem.

The most original programme comes from Mario Martinoli. The title of his disc, 'The Well-Tempered Scarlatti', has nothing to do with the temperament of his harpsichord, but refers to the way he became acquainted with Scarlatti's sonatas. "The first Scarlatti I ever encountered was Wendy Carlos' synthesizer orchestration of a number of Scarlatti sonatas. (...) I was 8 years old in 1973 and not yet playing any instrument, when I literally fell in love with Carlos' albumThe Well Tempered Synthesizer, a stunning 45-minute LP including visionary elaborations of Monteverdi, Handel, Bach and Scarlatti masterpieces. Pure magic. I owe a lot to this recording". When he was suggested to record a programme of Scarlatti sonatas he had to find a way how to choose from Scarlatti's large output. He noticed that Scarlatti wrote sonatas in 21 of the 24 keys; only the keys of C sharp major, A flat minor and E flat minor had been avoided. The connection to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was obvious. "Although it is manifest in catalogues of the repertoire, it certainly is not in the concert hall. Thus it seemed that a Well-Tempered Clavier approach applied to Scarlatti sonatas could be a good idea for a concert programme". That is the second explanation for the disc's title. Why Martinoli only recorded 20 sonatas instead of 21 is a mystery to me. You will have noticed that there is no sonata in the key of A flat major. Scarlatti's oeuvre includes two sonatas in that key, K 127 and 130, and there was certainly enough space left on the disc.

Whereas there are not that many sonatas in the "most bizarre keys" to choose from, it is much harder to make a choice from the sonatas in the most common keys, such as C or D major. Moreover, Martinoli had to deal with the fact that many sonatas are conceived as a pair, as indicated by the way Ralph Kirkpatrick catalogued them. He decided to put aside this aspect: "[The] approach adopted in the CD program does not respect Scarlatti's original indications but instead includes individual sonatas from the entire range of compositions, regardless of their companion". Whatever one may think about this, the result is a recital which includes mostly rarely-heard sonatas and shows the wide range of affects Scarlatti expressed in his keyboard music. Martinoli plays the copy of a Pascal Taskin harpsichord of 1769. This choice can be defended by the fact that the court of Queen Maria Barbara of Spain for whom Scarlatti wrote most of his sonatas, owned a variety of keyboard instruments, including French harpsichords. I like the rather mellow sound of the instrument which is different from the more penetrating sound of Italian-type harpsichords or even other French instruments. It is probably partly due to the recording; the miking is not too close. Martinoli's tempi are mostly on the moderate side, but generally convincing. Only in the Sonata in g minor (K 426) I found it a bit too slow considering that the indication is andante. It is a really beautiful piece which includes various pauses, but because of the slowish tempo these seem a little too long. The Sonata in c sharp minor (K 246) receives an outstanding, speech-like interpretation and the Sonata in b minor (K 87) which comes without a tempo indication is rightly taken at a moderate pace. The dark streaks in the Sonata in F (K 554) come across very well.

All in all, this is a highly compelling recital which includes various sonatas even Scarlatti aficionados may not have in their collection.

Johannes Maria Bogner chose the clavichord for his recital with fifteen sonatas from Scarlatti's oeuvre. I can't imagine he is the first to do so, but I haven't heard any performance on clavichord before. Is there any evidence that Scarlatti played the clavichord? Apparently not: Bogner doesn't claim he did. Roberto Pagano, in his part of the article on Scarlatti in New Grove, states: "Both the Venice and Parma manuscripts specify a 'cembalo', and every Spanish reference to a 'clavicordio' generates confusion, given the ambiguity of this term, which could indicate equally the clavichord proper or the harpsichord ('clavicordio de plumas'), or even Cristofori's instrument ('clavicordio de piano'). Since the surviving evidence links Scarlatti's miraculous playing to the harpsichord, not to the clavichord nor the Florentine 'arpicembalo che fa il piano e il forte', it is appropriate to consider Scarlatti's keyboard music as written principally for the harpsichord." He continues, against all logic: "There are other keyboard instruments on which the sonatas can be played, so reflecting the variety of choices characteristic of a much more casual approach than fanatics of historical performance would allow."

I consider myself a 'fanatic of historical performance' but that doesn't mean that I can't except performances on an instrument which can't be proven to have been played by the composer himself. We just don't know exactly which instruments Scarlatti played but there is some circumstantial evidence that the clavichord is a legitimate option. The instrument was widespread across Europe and that includes Spain. Even performances on the fortepiano - the discography includes several of such recordings - is not out of the question. I have already mentioned that Queen Maria Barbara's court owned several harpsichords. It also owned some fortepianos. However, the fact that some of these were later rebuilt into harpsichords suggests that they were probably not considered really satisfactory. Having heard some of these recordings I am rather sceptical about the suitability of the fortepiano for Scarlatti's sonatas. I am much more positive about the clavichord. Bogner refutes Pagano's assertion that "[the] clavichord (...) can render the cantabile qualities of some Adagios effectively but robs almost all the Allegros of their vivacity." There are no sonatas with the tempo indication adagio in Bogner's programme. The indications are either allegro or andante; the sonatas K 30 and 513 require moderato and the Sonata in d minor (K 32) is only called aria, without any tempo indication. There is definitely no lack of vivacity in the sonatas in fast tempo.

Like I said these sonatas are mostly pretty well known and that is partly due to the percussionistic features of many of them. This aspect seems to exert a special attraction on performers and reflect Scarlatti's being influenced by Spanish traditional music and maybe - as Bogner suggests - oriental music. These features come off very well on the clavichord. Bogner creates fortes one would probably not expect from such a soft and intimate instrument. He uses the clavichord - a copy after Bartolomeo Cristofori - with much differentiation and that results in a captivating recital, despite the fact that he largely confines himself to fairly common sonatas.

His performances are a convincing case for the use of a clavichord in Scarlatti's sonatas and its role in his environment deserves further investigation.

Johan van Veen ( 2016)

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