D SCARLATTI Sonatas Vol 1 (Federico Colli)
Federico Colli made a splash when he won the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition, as much for his red cravat as for his Beethoven Emperor. Chandos has done well to sign him and this disc of Scarlatti says Vol 1, so presumably there is more to come – all 555? That he’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking artist is made abundantly clear by his booklet essay, in which he explains his decision to group the sonatas according to mood (under such chapter headings as ‘The Power of Illusion’ and ‘The Return to Order’).
The playing itself ignites conflicting reactions. On the one hand, you can’t but marvel at the sheer quality of his playing – his trills the epitome of crispness, his repeated notes sounding absurdly easy, while his command of dynamic extremes is second to none. It’s impossible not to be impressed by his flair and he’s clearly in accord with Yevgeny Sudbin’s views on Scarlatti, that performing his music on the piano is akin to a transcription. Like Sudbin, Colli opts for a Steinway D and he’s not afraid to add octave doublings and the like. He imbues Kk9 with a piquant brilliance but he also has a tendency to tug the rhythm out of shape; Sudbin (BIS, 4/16), no less mercurial, lends the sonata a rhythmic integrity that gives it greater naturalness.
The frustration is that some sonatas work wonderfully – Kk492, for instance, with which he opens chapter 2 (‘Live happily!’), in which runs are stunningly controlled, moving from a whisper to a roar, and Colli brings out Scarlatti’s Spanishries with élan. In Kk39 he gives Horowitz (Sony) a run for his money in terms of speed. If there’s a generalisation to be made, it’s perhaps that Colli is more convincing in the faster sonatas.
In the final chapter (‘Enchantment and Prayer’), Colli takes a whimiscal approach to Kk69, with much give and take in the dialogue. Anne Queffélec (Erato, 3/95) finds a simple honesty in her reading, while Sudbin, on his recent disc, imbues it with a spiritual otherworldliness. Colli follows this with Kk208, which becomes positively consumptive at a very drawn-out tempo (there’s some superb footage of Maria João Pires playing this on YouTube). Kk32 concludes the disc, as it did Sudbin’s. Ironically, though Colli takes a slightly more flowing tempo, it is Sudbin who sounds more coherent, with Colli’s shadings-off at the end of phrases done to excess. Yet, at his finest, Colli is formidable, with the most delelectable quiet playing in Kk450 and a truly vivacious