, December 2008
This is the eleventh CD in Naxos’s very slowly unfolding series of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas [Click here for the others—Ed.] The earliest recordings in the series were made in 1994, this latest volume in 2007. Though I am not normally a great fan of piano performances of music originally intended for the harpsichord, I am always prepared to make an exception when the playing is sensitive to the composer’s intentions, as is the case here. In any event, with recommendable complete sets on the harpsichord already on the market…Naxos were wise to offer piano versions. Some sonatas may, in fact, have been intended for an early form of the fortepiano—K149 (track 16) is a case in point.
It was probably wise, too, not to give the whole set to one pianist but to share the volumes amongst a number of performers. Some of the earlier volumes have been assigned to well-established pianists, such as Benjamin Frith, whose performances on Volume 5 Gary Higginson and Kevin Sutton both thought worth adding to your collection (8.554792) Michael Lewin’s contribution on Volume 2 (8.553067) has also been generally well received.
More recent volumes have tended to involve rising stars as, for example, Soyeon Lee on Volume 8, whose performances Patrick Waller rated on a par with Benjamin Frith’s (8.570010) and Gottlieb Wallisch falls into that category. We seem to have missed out on Volumes 9 (8.570368—Francesco Nicolosi) and 10 (8.570511—Colleen Lee) but reviews elsewhere have been generally favourable and I am certainly pleased to have received Volume 11.
I hadn’t encountered Wallisch before hearing him on this CD, but this was a very promising introduction. My first complete run-through of the recording, with critical faculties at least partly suspended—at any rate, without pen at the ready —was very favourable. The name which keeps cropping up in any consideration of Scarlatti on the piano is that of Horowitz; I have to say that I actually preferred what I heard here to those Horowitz Scarlatti performances which I have heard.
Subsequent, more critical listening confirmed my initial favourable impression; Wallisch resists any temptation to make these sonatas into big pianistic statements and he is alive to the requirements of the variety of the music represented here. His style reminds me of Angela Hewitt’s Bach, my only criticism of which is that if she can play Bach on the piano so effectively, I’d love to hear her play his music on the harpsichord. Wallisch now enters my pantheon along with Hewitt and Stephen Gutman…
The notes skate lightly over the question of whether certain of these sonatas were intended as pairs by Scarlatti. Several of the sonatas here are indeed paired by their Kirkpatrick (K) numbers—two are even paired in the earlier Longo catalogue: K.347 and K.348 (tracks 5 and 6) = L.126 and L.127. These two sonatas are clearly linked in the ninth Venice volume. Other pairings in the K catalogue are preserved and mentioned as pairs without further comment—K.376 and 377 (trs.10 and 11) and 148 and 149 (trs.15 and 16). Not all Kirkpatrick’s proposed pairings are preserved here, however: K.384 (tr.3), for example, appears to be paired with K.385 in the Venice collection, but only K.384 is offered here.
I’m not going to get into an issue which has caused scholarly disagreement, other than to note that only one of the K pairings here is preserved in Pestelli’s catalogue—K.376 and 377 are P.246 and 245 respectively. I should add that the dates given in the headnote are those of the relevant albums from the collection of Queen Maria Barbara, which were probably taken to Venice by the castrato Farinelli.
The recording is as good as my colleagues have reported of previous volumes and the presentation first-rate: the documentation even includes the older L and more recent P numbers, which I have omitted from the heading of this review to avoid complicating matters. The notes in the booklet, as usual with Keith Anderson, are full and scholarly yet eminently readable—though I wish he had delivered his authoritative judgment on the pairing issue—and the cover illustration most apposite.