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D. SCARLATTI: 18 Sonatas – Igor Kamenz, piano – Naive

D. SCARLATTI: 18 Sonatas – Igor Kamenz, piano – Naïve V 5399, 70:00 (9/30/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 

Pianist and conductor Igor Kamenz was born in 1968 in the Far East of Russia on the river Amur, close to the Chinese border. In 1975 he gave his debut as conductor – he studied with Sergiu Celibidache – of the Novosibirsk Philharmonia with a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G, “Surprise.”  A series of concerts as pianist, soloist and above all as conductor followed between 1976 and 1978. Kamenz gave his first concert at the Kremlin as conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra in October 1977. His concert with the Russian All Union Radio and Television Orchestra with works from Mozart and Johann Strauss was transmitted on 1 May 1977 over the entire Soviet television network.

Kamenz has recorded both for radio and television in the form of studio productions and concert recordings. Attila Csampai wrote of Kamenz’ recordings of works from Liszt, Rachmaninov and Tausig: “Kamenz’s feeling for subtle differences in timbre is phenomenal” (Scala). He continued “… works of art performed by a magician …a gladiator at the keyboard …who knows all the tricks … pianistic excellence and artistic intelligence that revitalize the tradition of the ‘old’ virtuosi in a modern and analytic way” (Musik und Theater). Harold C. Schonberg wrote: “a very beautiful record …elegant romantic playing without romantic bombast …his technique is of top international quality.”

Kamenz organized this selection of eighteen Scarlatti sonatas in October 2013, what he describes as “a suite of eighteen movements.” Seeking to establish a dramatic sequence, Kamenz places the E Major, K381 between two D Major sonatas as an opening triptych. The highly introspectiveB Minor Sonata,K197 contains a world of Spanish impulses, from slow sarabande to lofty fanfare. The A Major, K322 moves as a processional, cantabile, accompanied by trumpets and strummed guitars.  A condensed revelation that captures Bach and looks forward to Chopin, the A Minor, K109 Adagio, proffers an exquisitely wrought nocturne rife with exploratory harmonies.

The D Minor Sonata, K141 returns to a spirit of exuberance, a percussive toccata in flamenco rhythm with liquid runs and crossed hands. The D Major Sonata, K492, Presto, displays Kamenz’s fluid facility with shifting meters and a variety of light touches and leaps, many of which bubble with Iberian wit. The G Major, K146 bears no tempo indication, so Kamenz adopts a moderato pace that illumines the runs and plastic grace notes that create eddies of sound. Kamenz slows the tempo of the C Minor, K11 more so than other pianists, almost to a stately gavotte or Bach duet. A series of rippling runs and acciaccaturas marks the Presto in F Major, K17, a playful etude which savors its contrasting textures and registers. The oft-performed B Minor Sonata, K27 finds in Kamenz a middle ground for its poignant Allegro marking, not so slow as the Gilels rendition but not so glib as Michelangeli’s. The last selection in a minor key from Kamenz, the Sonata in B Minor, K87, bears no tempo indication, so the Lento Kamenz adopts proceeds in measured, chromatic half steps.  Any more harmonically daring and the piece would anticipate the Second Viennese School.

Kamenz concludes with a happy quartet: Sonata in E Major, K380; Sonata in A Major, K209 (Allegro); Sonata in A Major, K101 (Allegro); and Sonata in D Major, K29 (Presto).  Of these, the first, Andante commodo in E, remains the universally familiar, with its mock military fanfares and dancing figures in binary form, here taken in stately measure. The delicately balletic K209 enjoys a guitar sonority, a courtly fandango whose cadences end in trills and roulades.  The forward-looking, expansive  K101 balances staccato and legato phrases, the harmony touched by a wisp of nostalgia. A fiendish array of thirds and leaping scales in octaves poses no obstacle for Kamenz’s rendition of the K29, as daunting as any Bach toccata. The heavily Spanish aura of the piece will remind some of Soler, but most of the filigree would appeal to Glenn Gould. Kamenz, then, has beguiled us with a cornucopia of pianistic colors and musical inventions that bespeaks a performer of the highest caliber.  Recorded sound of the Kamenz Steinway remains warm and lucid, courtesy of Adam Abehouse.

—Gary Lemco

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