SCARLATTI: Sonatas, Volume 1: 16 Sonatas – Federico Colli, piano – Chandos CHAN 10988, 66:36 (5/4/18) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) continue to attract acolytes: witness the major project for recording the complete oeuvre of 555 sonatas by Carlo Grante. Chandos now collaborates with the recent Salzburg and Leeds competition winner Federico Colli for his first volume of 16 sonatas, organized—it would seem—by their affects and emotional affinities. Performing on a modern Steinway, the Italian pianist takes a fresh approach from a philosophical angle, by grouping the compositions into chapters in order to reflect the many contrasts of his life and his contradictory personality. In personal liner notes Colli reveals: “I conceived a map of a journey into transcendental thought, beyond the works phenomenological meaning. Each chapter has a title, and the individual sonatas in each chapter refer back to the permeating image of its basic idea.”
Colli opens with a group of for sonatas under the rubric “The Power of Illusion,” of which the first, in elaborate, lengthy D minor, K. 19 (1739), casts a melancholy air in the manner of a staid sarabande. The “illusion” for Colli lies in the music’s “veils” that protect us “from the hostile and bitter aspects of everyday life.” Doubtless, the veils come to us in the form of ornaments and turns, even in sudden liberations of a passing dissonance. The E Major, K. 380—long a favorite of such diverse personalities as Casadesus and Gieseking—went for many years under the label “Cortege,” given its military stance (Andante commodo) and penchant for traveling fanfares. In binary form, the piece vacillates between declamatory aggression and a yearning lyricism. The Sonata in D minor, K. 9 (1739) derives from the set of some 30 Essercizi per gravicembalo published in London. Its soft manner in 6/8 warrants its title “Pastorale.” Colli takes this stately Allegro in slow periods, imparting its trills and quick runs with fined drama. Its middle section could have sufficed for a guitar serenade, though the bass line certainly suits the grand piano. Studied syncopations mark the Sonata in G minor, K. 234, Andante, a somewhat ritualized excursion into sweet sorrow. The dance-like fervor easily anticipates tropes we know from later Iberian composers, Granados and Falla.
What Colli calls “Chapter 2: Live Happily! “ takes its cue from Scarlatti’s preface to his 1739 sonatas dedicated to King John V of Portugal. The strong, national-dance character of the first piece, the Sonata in D Major, K. 492, has an almost Haydn energy in its approach to the fandango or bulerias influence of its percussive motion. Colli imbues the convulsive figures with infectious vigor. Colli left hand plays half notes in the Sonata in A Major, K. 322, while the right hand executes a simple melodic texture. Michelangeli favored its combination of folkish periods and inborn galanterie. Colli gives it a lithe, diaphanous grace. The Sonata in F Major, K. 525 earned the name “Scherzo” from Hans von Bulow, who included it in an edition of Scarlatti he produced in 1864. A highly layered, stratified texture, the work gallops quickly and forcefully, with big chords on downbeats, well in anticipation of Beethoven. The Sonata in A Major, K. 39, Presto, unabashedly means to display the keyboardist’s virtuosity. A brilliant toccata, it moves in rushes and glaring arcs, breathless and bold.
Colli’s third group, “The Return to Order,” means to coalesce Scarlatti’s invention with the reign of strict harmony. The opening Sonata in D minor, K. 396, demands sudden changes in tempo. The dotted rhythm Andante soon yields to an aggressive Allegro in constant modulation. The Sonata in G minor, K. 450 was entitled Burlesca by Bulow in 1864. The piece is a potent, percussive dance that Jose Greco doubtless would have punished with the toe of his boot. The Sonata in D Major, K. 430, has a mysterious, dance designation from the composer: Non presto ma a tempo di ballo. The piece finds itself orchestrated in Tommasini’s “The Good-Humored Ladies.” The repeated note has often prompted an allusion to the cuckoo. The Sonata in D minor, K. 1, once more derives from the 1739 Essercizi. Quite contrapuntal in the ‘traditional’ Baroque sense, the piece still carries its own delicate flair.
Colli’s last group garners the epithet “Enchantment and Prayer”. He opens with the B minor Sonata, K. 197, an extended piece, Andante, built on melodic fragments and falling bass figures. Colli invests a decided sense of mystery into the often archaic harmonies. Perhaps even more antiquated in sound, the Sonata in F minor, K. 69 combines lyricism with a relatively free sense of counterpoint. An anomaly among Scarlatti sonatas, that in A Major, K. 208 is marked Adagio e cantabile, and it moves its beguiling melody against a pulsating bass in Neapolitan figures that anticipate moves in K.P.E. Bach’s notion of empfindsamkeit. Another rarity concludes the cycle: the Sonata in D minor, K. 32, which appeared in a 1739 collection made by Thomas Roseingrave to compete with the Essercizi. Marked “Aria,” this brief curio might have served Schumann or Beethoven as a moment of enigmatic beauty.