SCARLATTI Keyboard Sonatas Vol 5
Pierre Hantaï’s discerning and unhurried stroll through selected Scarlatti sonatas (the single-disc series began way back in 1993) here reaches a fifth release, and as usual is worth the wait. Playing a harpsichord after German models that is as clean as a whistle and combines a bright high register with strongly sonorous support down below, he brings crisp, precise fingerwork to bear while maintaining beguiling softness of hand and impressive control of speed and tone. Scarlatti is never a clatter with Hantaï, because when the notes are flying his quick technique always gives him time to let them sing.
One of the joys of Scarlatti’s sonatas, as with Bach cantatas and Haydn symphonies, is that the fact that there are too many to grasp means that you always feel as if you are encountering something new. The 16 sonatas here put well-known ones alongside others that will be unfamiliar to many listeners, though of course peppered with original ideas and surprises. The ‘discoveries’ here include Kk547, with its brief, possibly deliberate references to Rameau’s Les cyclopes; Kk475, opening in military fanfares, then releasing into delirious swirls; Kk28, enlivened by delightful trampoline leaps; Kk388, whose politely imitative opening lurches unexpectedly into something more suggestive of a street-cry; Kk277, a simple but exquisitely shaped Cantabile andantino similar in style and mood to the popular Kk208; and Kk205, each of whose halves opens in dignified 2/2 before shooting off into rockin’ 6/8. The better-known sonatas include the broodingly melancholy Kk474, the haughtily Hispanic Kk238 and the gorgeous B minor Andante of Kk87, so loved by pianists. Hantaï’s brisk way with the last may strike some of those pianists as lacking in Romantic sentiment but its essential lyricism is skilfully preserved nonetheless.
Seventy-eight minutes of harpsichord music by one composer is not always an easy listen but with Scarlatti and Hantaï it is an absolute pleasure to stay with.