During his lifetime, from his Neapolitan years to his Spanish sojourn, Domenico Scarlatti cultivated the “cantata” genre, composing at least about sixty works – those of uncertain attribution and his Serenades excluded. Other cantatas are likely to emerge once the uncatalogued funds are systematically scanned. Since in those years the cantata was a genre on the wane, this high number is revealing of Scarlatti’s uninterrupted link with the baroque tradition, an age in which the cantata had reached its climax as an extremely refined genre, the place for daring experimentation, and exquisite writing, the appropriate gym for high craftsmanship, as expected by the elitist audience for which it was intended. The manuscripts date from 1699 to 1724.
The astonishing technical variety and wide emotional range contained in Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas make each and every encounter a rewarding adventure in which the listener is seldom left untouched. This is Pierre Hantaï’s third solo disc of Scarlatti’s sonatas though only the second in his current series for the Mirare label. It contains several pieces less frequently performed than others and with which many readers may find themselves unfamiliar. The first item, in fact, is one of only seven sonatas of Scarlatti’s that is a straightforward fugue. It is an uncharacteristically didactic piece, even a shade austere compared to the rest of Hantaï’s recital which contains a kaleidoscope of colourful images. What Hantaï seems to be emphasising in his choice is that elusive, somewhat abstracted improvisatory quality present in so many of the pieces and of which the Sonata in E major K 215 provides a well-sustained example. Generally speaking, Hantaï follows Ralph Kirkpatrick’s suggestion that Scarlatti probably intended to group his sonatas into pairs or occasionally threes according to key.
Nikolai Demidenko is a celebrated piano virtuoso, considered a leading exponent of the Russian school of playing. His blend of technical brilliance and musical vision have earned him consistent raves since he first emerged on the international scene in the mid-1980s, and he has become a musical fixture in his adopted home of Great Britain, where he gained citizenship in 1995. Demidenko began playing before the age of five, learning on his grandfather's old, beaten-up piano. By the age of six, he was a student of Anna Kantor (Evgeny Kissin's teacher) at the Gnessin School of Music. An obstinate student who disliked scales and technique, Demidenko still made swift progress, and he eventually entered the Moscow Conservatory. There, he studied with Dmitri Bashkirov, whom Demidenko credits with fostering his more individual qualities as a player, as well as ironing out the remaining wrinkles in his technique. Reaching the finals of both the 1976 Montreal competition and the 1978 Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow (where he played through an acute case of the flu) served as a final springboard to professional recognition.
As one of the world's foremost interpreters of Baroque keyboard music on the modern piano, Angela Hewitt has established a fine reputation for impeccable playing and fresh musical insights. Listeners who cherish her award-winning recordings on Hyperion of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach have already experienced her exquisite playing, and they will be delighted to hear this selection of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, Bach's contemporary and an innovator whose compositions influenced the development of the Classical sonata. Some of these selections are well known, particularly the Sonata in C major, Kk159, the Sonata in D major, Kk96, and the Sonata in E major, Kk380, which are often anthologized, though Hewitt hasn't packed this disc with greatest hits (with 555 sonatas to choose from, there are many less familiar that deserve attention). Hewitt's performances are thoughtfully phrased, polished in tone, and rhythmically precise with a modicum of rubato, and she is alert to the subtleties that make this music so beguiling. Hewitt recorded these 16 sonatas in the Beethovensaal in Hannover, where she made her first Bach recordings for Hyperion 20 years previously, and the acoustics are nearly ideal for her style.
As the old saying goes, "the third time's the charm." This is indeed the third time the German label Accent has issued this coupling of Domenico Scarlatti's Stabat Mater with João Rodrigues Esteves' Missa a oito voces. The first time was in 1990, when the recording by Currende under the leadership of Erik van Nevel was new, and the second in 1998 as part of a box set containing this and several recordings by Concerto Palatino. No complaints here, though, as this is one of the finest discs Accent has to offer.
The biggest surprise on this wonderfully exuberant and exhilarating disc comes with the very first notes: the piano tone is rich and full, worlds away from the slightly distant, musical-box tone that is often thought appropriate for recordings of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas on a modern concert grand. But as the soundworld suggests, Tharaud is totally unapologetic about playing these pieces – all originally composed for harpsichord even though the earliest fortepianos were in circulation in Scarlatti's time – on a piano. In the sleevenotes, Tharaud says that of the four baroque keyboard composers that he has recorded so far – Bach, Couperin, Rameau and now Scarlatti – it's the last whose music is most suited to this treatment. His selection of sonatas is chosen for maximum variety, with a group in which the Spanish inflections of flamenco and folk music can be heard, others in which he gets a chance to show some dazzling technique, alongside those in which the playfulness is replaced by profound introspection.