DOMENICO SCARLATTI: 16 Sonatas – Pierre Hantaï, harpsichord – Mirare

by | Feb 8, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

DOMENICO SCARLATTI:  16 Sonatas – Pierre Hantaï, harpsichord – Mirare MIR 007 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi), 65:16 ****:

Recitals of selections from the 550-odd sonatas-that-are-not-really-sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti abound, expressed on harpsichord, piano and even fortepiano. This one is worthy of attention on several counts. The packaging, in a jewel box alternative foldout, is lovely.  The notes are most interesting; I didn’t know that part of the Italian composer’s efforts at getting well settled in the Spanish court of King Joao V to teach his pupil Maria Barbara was arranging his own marriage to a 16-year-old wife. There’s also useful opinions on which of the many sonatas are fairly ordinary and which are exceptional (most of them). When asked in an interview published in the notes if this was the first volume of a complete set of all the sonatas, Hantaï replied “Certainly not!”

The sound of the instrument used is a major attraction of this disc. It is based on an Italian rather than a Spanish instrument of the period, but was just constructed a few years ago. The instrument’s resonance is the strongest feature of its timbre.  It completely avoids  even a hint of the sort of jangling, high-pitched tinkling which caused harpsichord-hater Sir Thomas Beecham to refer to the sound of skeletons copulating on a tin roof.  If all harpsichords sounded like this one I think there would be many less harpsichord-haters. One almost forgets that the instrument lacks any sustaining abilities.

The sonatas selected by Hantaï range from as early as K.8 to as late as K.525 & 526. His analysis of the music provides worthwhile insights. He mentions how none of the courtly dances of the period in Europe – which provided the starting points for so much keyboard music – had appeal for Scarlatti. It was only the more fierce and brusque rhythms and movements of Spanish folk dance such as flamenco. This quality of Andalusian music is brought out in Hantaï’s stirring interpretations, some of which seem to set new speed records for Scarlatti.

– John Sunier

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