SCARLATTI Harpsichord Sonatas
Monotony all too often sets in on discs devoted entirely to the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Not because the composer lacked imagination or produced monochromatic fare – quite the opposite. The hyper-abundance of Scarlatti’s creativity elicits a kind of hysteria in too many interpreters, a manic need to meet every virtuoso challenge in an ostentatious, almost aggressive way. Merely average Scarlatti players are all too often given to unregulated melodrama.
Not so Carole Cerasi. Her new disc of 15 sonatas doesn’t just meet and exceed the demands of Scarlatti the keyboard virtuoso, who challenges players to cross hands, negotiate rapid skips and finesse complex and rapidly shifting textural patterns. Cerasi’s recording builds a sense of a deeper Scarlatti, a composer filled with delightful musical quirks and oddities, at turns wheeling, ruminative and bumptious. It is a well-plotted disc, capturing the full range of the composer’s moods, the breadth of his keyboard style, from the flamenco-like snarl of his clotted accompaniment chords (Kk115 and Kk175) to the thinner, more elegant mood pieces that sound almost like François Couperin (Kk429). The programme begins spare and suggestively, building to a spectacular finale with bravura works at the end.
Cerasi uses two harpsichords, both of them 20th-century reproductions based on historic instruments. Though neither instrument may have the historic interest of the Florentine-made 1763 harpsichord used by Aline d’Ambricourt on another Scarlatti release, the modern remakes are in fact sonically more interesting and provide a greater range of colours, from deliciously astringent to warm, robust lower tones.
Scarlatti wrote 555 keyboard sonatas, so it’s no surprise that Cerasi and d’Ambricourt overlap with only one sonata. A comparison of the two performances breaks easily in favour of Cerasi’s more spacious, moody, delicate approach. D’Ambricourt’s traversal is steady and occasionally leaden, Cerasi’s almost improvisatory in its phrasing and pace. In other readings by d’Ambricourt, including the spitfire Kk141 with which she begins her programme, the classic danger of Scarlatti-playing comes to the fore, all fingerwork and fire but little sense of the larger drama.
With Cerasi, there are no false steps. She keeps lines wonderfully clear in the Sonata Kk213 and the ornaments have a taut, dance-like snap in the Sonata Kk516. In the Sonata Kk87, a favourite of Horowitz on the piano, Cerasi produces something that wanders and dreams as much as the old Russian master’s interpretation but is fully idiomatic to the harpsichord.
In short, Cerasi’s disc is delight and will please longtime Scarlatti collectors as much as it entices newcomers to explore further.