SCARLATTI Piano Sonatas
This is Angela Hewitt’s first foray into Scarlatti on disc but she hopes there will be more. Sixteen down…539 to go! The ones we have here have been thoughtfully programmed so each is heard to the best advantage. Her booklet-notes are personal and engaging and, as ever, she wears her learning lightly.
With so much experience playing music of the Baroque, you’d expect something highly personal from Hewitt. Even in a sonata as well known as the lilting Kk9, we hear it afresh, with no turn of phrase going unconsidered. In the bustling Kk159, replete with horn calls, she reveals as much interest in the inner parts as in the outer ones.
Comparisons with other pianists are fascinating because they show how many different interpretative approaches these pieces can take. Hewitt’s view of Kk69 is relatively spacious, Romantic almost; Anne Queffélec is quite a bit faster here; but then turn to Marcelle Meyer and it’s quicker still, with an inevitability to her beautifully moulded lines.
Or try Kk87 in B minor – one of Scarlatti’s most poignant sonatas. Hewitt reveals its Palestrina-esque elements, while Pletnev shapes its lines with great freedom. In the same key, Kk27 is one of Scarlatti’s greatest sonatas, and Hewitt lays bare every detail, though to my mind Queffélec is the more instinctive musician, though that’s true of Sudbin too.
The main issue I have with Hewitt here is that I’m too aware of her musical decision-making, which seems to lie on the surface of her interpretations rather than being concealed. The other caveat is that when Scarlatti is at his most outlandishly demanding, you’re too aware of the fact. Repeated notes on the piano are, as Hewitt points out, a nightmare: those in the anarchic Kk141, for instance, are too audibly tricky; Pletnev makes them sound almost annoyingly easy.
Among the less common pieces, Kk140, with its unusual harmonic shifts, sudden silences and fanfares, is a gem and its shifts are well captured by Hewitt. I’m less persuaded by her drawn-out tempo for the profoundly melancholy Kk109, though, as she says, it’s the only one in the 555 marked Adagio. And while Kk380, which ends the CD, sounds regal in Hewitt’s hands, it acquires a touchingly wistful quality in those of Meyer.