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Domenico Scarlatti & Spanish keyboard music

[I] Sebastián DE ALBERO (1722 - 1756): "Sonatas para clavicordio I à XV"
Mario Raskin, harpsichord
rec: June 2020, Villarceaux (F), Château
Pierre Verany - PV721051 (© 2021) (56'57")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Sonata No. 1 in C; Sonata No. 2 in C; Sonata No. 3 in D; Sonata No. 4 in d minor; Sonata No. 5 in a minor; Sonata No. 6 in a minor; Sonata No. 7 in F; Sonata No. 8 in F; Sonata No. 9 in G; Sonata No. 10 in G; Sonata No. 11 in d minor; Sonata No. 12 in D; Sonata No. 13 in B flat; Sonata No. 14 in B flat; Sonata No. 15 in g minor

Sources: Sonatas para clavicordio, ms [n.d.]

[II] Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 - 1757): "Alio modo"
Amaya Fernández Pozuelo, harpsichord
rec: June 29 - July 1, 2018, Milan, Chiesa di San Marco (sacrestia monumentale)
Stradivarius - Str 37140 / 37197* (© 2019 / 2021*) (67'28")
Liner-notes: E/F/ES/I
Cover, track-list & booklet*

Mateo Pérez DE ALBÉNIZ (1755-1831): Sonata in D; Sebastián DE ALBERO: Sonata No. 12 in D; Felix Máximo LÓPEZ (1742-1821): Variaciones al Minue afandangado in d minor; Domenico SCARLATTI: Sonata in d minor (K 1); Sonata in e minor (K 98); Sonata in c minor (K 115); Sonata in f minor (K 184); Sonata in G (K 201); Sonata in A (K 208); Sonata in d minor (K 213); Antonio SOLER (1729-1783): Sonata in D (R 413)

Scores Albero
Scores Scarlatti

If one asks a lover of baroque music the names of Spanish keyboard composers, he certainly will mention Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Soler. Someone may add Seixas, but he was Portuguese, although stylistically close to Scarlatti and other Spanish composers of keyboard music. There were several of the latter category, but they have been almost completely overshadowed by Scarlatti and Soler. The first disc to be reviewed here is entirely devoted to one of them, Sebastián de Albero. The second disc seems to focus on Scarlatti, but in fact includes not only a sonata by Albero, but also pieces by other Spanish keyboard composers, albeit of a later generation.

Sebastián Ramón de Albero Añanos was born in Roncal in Navarra and was educated as a keyboard player. As a boy he sang in the choir of Pamplona Cathedral and in 1746 he was appointed second principal organist of the Royal Chapel (behind José de Nebra). He did not need to go through the usual selection process, which attests to his reputation at such a young age. At that time Domenico Scarlatti also lived and worked in Madrid. Albero stayed there until his death.

Due to his early death, at the age of 34, his oeuvre is rather small. The best-known part is the collection of thirty sonatas, entitled Sonatas para clavicordio. It has been preserved in an Italian source. The library of the Madrid Conservatory includes another collection, comprising ricercares, toccatas and sonatas. A third collection is known, but seems to have been lost.

The Sonatas para clavicordio is divided into two parts. Each includes seven pairs of sonatas in the same key, and close with a fifteenth single sonata in the form of a fugue. Mario Raskin recorded the fifteen pieces from the first half; I am not aware of a recording by him of the second part. Some pairs have an identical tempo indication (allegro), but in other cases the first of the two is an andante. Anyone who knows Scarlatti's sonatas may immediately notice the similarity between them and these pieces by Albero. Both show the influence of traditional Spanish music, especially in the treatment of rhythm. Percussionistic elements frequently manifest themselves, for instance in the Sonata No. 3 in D. The Sonata No. 11 in d minor, on the other hand, is a wonderful and compelling musical discourse in a flowing andante tempo.

The title of the collection of sonatas may raise the question for which instrument they are intended. This is not discussed in the booklet. One may think that the clavichord is the preferred instrument. However, the term clavicordio refers to a strung keyboard instrument in general, like clavier in German music. Mario Raskin plays a harpsichord by Kroll, a French double-manual instrument of 1776. His performances are excellent: very lively and rhythmically precise in the fast sonatas, and declamatory in the slower sonatas. His recording is a most convincing case for these pieces that are not as well-known as they deserve to be. It is to be hoped that the remaining part of his oeuvre will be recorded in performances that are equally convincing.

There is no lack of recordings of Scarlatti's sonatas. If one wants to make a meaningful contribution, one has to find one's own approach. That is certainly the case with the recording by Amaya Fernández Pozuelo. That already starts with the way she looks at individual sonatas. She is one of those performers who think that sonatas have a particular meaning. That is subjective, of course, as we don't have any idea what Scarlatti himself wanted to express; his sonatas have no titles which could give us a clue in that respect. The programme opens with the Sonata in d minor (K 213). "If I had to give it a title, I would call it Dawn in the streets of Seville", Ms Pozuelo writes in her liner-notes, and she then goes on explaining her ideas about the nature of this sonata.

The selection of the sonatas is such that the differences within Scarlatti's keyboard corpus come clearly to the fore. The influences of Spanish traditional music manifest themselves in particular in the Sonata in f minor (K 184), whereas the Sonata in A (K 208) is a kind of opera aria, in which the thematic material is in the right hand and the left hand is largely confined to an accompanying role. The tempo indication, adagio e cantabile, is telling.

However, the strictly musical interpretation is also very much the performer's own. In the booklet to the original release (*), she states: "My interpretation is not simply meant to offer a new, unique and exclusive reading, but aims to unveil the numerous facets that the music of the great Domenico hides. This explains the added notes, the rhythmic variations, the fluctuations of time, the asynchrony between the hands, the suspensions, the unwritten repeated notes, the moments of pressure, the declamatory freedom, the different colours of the phrasing, to finally reach the rhetoric value of silence: intense, pungent, dramatic, playful or caustic." Some of these interpretational choices can only be discerned by those who know the selected sonatas inside out, or read the scores while listening. Others are far more evident, such as the treatment of the tempo and the use of rubato. This largely explains, for instance, the difference in duration of Albero's Sonata No. 12 in D between the two performances under review here.

Overall, I find Ms Pozuelo's performances convincing and musically compelling. The Sonata in d minor (K 213) is the exception: here the tempo is so slow that the performance tends to drag on and to loose coherence. The sonata takes 10'34" here; in comparison, Pieter-Jan Belder (Brilliant Classics) needs just 6'25".

The addition of pieces by other composers is quite interesting, as they show both the similarities and the differences with Scarlatti. Particularly noteworthy is the percussionistic nature of the Sonata in D by Albéniz. The preludio from the Variaciones al Minué afandangado in d minor by López is a clear token of his belonging to a different phase in music history, especially in his treatment of harmony. Both pieces receive excellent performances.

(*) This recording is available in two different editions. I have written this review on the basis of the original release, which I have as a physical disc. The header refers to a booklet of a second edition, which includes liner-notes in Japanese, and reviews of the first release. On the other hand, the liner-notes on the music are only available in the digital booklet but are absent in the booklet that accompanies the first release. This is all a bit confusing.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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Mario Raskin

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