Baroque powerhouse Domenico Scarlatti – son of the great Alessandro Scarlatti and born in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Friderich Handel – wrote an enormous 555 keyboard sonatas. These were mostly to be performed on the harpsichord, although several sources suggest that he may have also written some for the fortepiano at the Spanish court, where he was employed from 1733. The universal appeal of these sonatas – containing Scarlatti’s trademark influence of Iberian folk music and dances – is such that they have been pushed beyond the boundaries of the intended instrument, and thus the recording also boasts performances of selected sonatas on the harp and accordion, bringing these wonderful sonatas into the 21st century.
As one of the world's foremost interpreters of Baroque keyboard music on the modern piano, Angela Hewitt has established a fine reputation for impeccable playing and fresh musical insights. Listeners who cherish her award-winning recordings on Hyperion of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach have already experienced her exquisite playing, and they will be delighted to hear this selection of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, Bach's contemporary and an innovator whose compositions influenced the development of the Classical sonata. Some of these selections are well known, particularly the Sonata in C major, Kk159, the Sonata in D major, Kk96, and the Sonata in E major, Kk380, which are often anthologized, though Hewitt hasn't packed this disc with greatest hits (with 555 sonatas to choose from, there are many less familiar that deserve attention). Hewitt's performances are thoughtfully phrased, polished in tone, and rhythmically precise with a modicum of rubato, and she is alert to the subtleties that make this music so beguiling. Hewitt recorded these 16 sonatas in the Beethovensaal in Hannover, where she made her first Bach recordings for Hyperion 20 years previously, and the acoustics are nearly ideal for her style.
Recordings of the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti come and go. Reissues of those made in Paris in the 1930s by Wanda Landowska seem to be always with us. A recent reissue of 26 of them quickly earned a rarely-bestowed rosette in a prestigious CD guide, and the comment, "her playing has more character than that of most modern players put together; it is electrifying in its sheer vitality and imagination".
The astonishing technical variety and wide emotional range contained in Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas make each and every encounter a rewarding adventure in which the listener is seldom left untouched. This is Pierre Hantaï’s third solo disc of Scarlatti’s sonatas though only the second in his current series for the Mirare label. It contains several pieces less frequently performed than others and with which many readers may find themselves unfamiliar. The first item, in fact, is one of only seven sonatas of Scarlatti’s that is a straightforward fugue. It is an uncharacteristically didactic piece, even a shade austere compared to the rest of Hantaï’s recital which contains a kaleidoscope of colourful images. What Hantaï seems to be emphasising in his choice is that elusive, somewhat abstracted improvisatory quality present in so many of the pieces and of which the Sonata in E major K 215 provides a well-sustained example. Generally speaking, Hantaï follows Ralph Kirkpatrick’s suggestion that Scarlatti probably intended to group his sonatas into pairs or occasionally threes according to key.