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Music Review: Domenico Scarlatti – The Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 10

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If Francesco Nicolosi's Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 9 was a study of Scarlatti's minor key, moderately paced sonatas, then Coleen Lee's Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 10 is a study in Scarlatti presto barn burning sonatas. Lee brings to the keyboard a commanding approach that approximates Vladimir Horowitz in his Scarlatti. But this is no mere comparison. Lee brings the same inventive reverence and sense of wonder to the pieces. Perhaps a more accurate simile would be that Lee performs Scarlatti as one would expect Johann Sebastian Bach to, had he done so.

Lee begins her recital with with the D Major Sonata, K. 29, a Horowitz standard. Where Horowitz established a foundation for the piece, building a cathedral with it, Lee applies Newtonian Mechanics to the music, giving the sonata a spirited momentum, one where the notes cascade just enough in control to make it a perfect high-wire performance. The Bach angle comes into play with the K. 29's sister sonata in D Minor, K. 19. Here Lee performs the piece like one of Bach's inventions. Both the K. 29 and K. 19 sonatas are marked presto, and presto they are. Such profound playing infects the other D Major sonatas: K. 23 (allegro), K. 45 (presto), and K. 53 (allegro).

Another coupling of major and minor key sonatas is the aforementioned D Major, K. 23, an ebullient and slightly governed deluge of notes, and the introspective and contrapuntal D Minor, K. 41(almost adagio). Lee splendidly compares and contrasts these two vastly different sonatas, while demonstrating their common ground. The D Major, K. 45 possesses wisps of the Horowitz left hand, quietly laying the foundation over which Lee's right hand reigns. Lee approaches the rhythmically complex E Minor Sonata, K. 81 in such a way to clearly delineate its Grave – Allegro – Grave – Allegro four-movement structure.

This is the installment of The Complete Keyboard Sonatas to beat. Coleen Lee sets the bar high, very high, indeed. While none of the volumes in this set are less than excellent, Lee's Scarlatti recital is a first among equals.

Selections: Sonata for Harpsichord in D major, K 29/L 461; Sonata for Harpsichord in D minor, K 18/L 416; Sonata for Harpsichord in D major, K 23/L 411; Sonata for Harpsichord in D minor, K 41; Sonata for Harpsichord in D major, K 53/L 261; Sonata for Harpsichord in D major, K 45/L 265; Sonata for Harpsichord in A major, K 74/L 94; Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in E minor, K 81/L 271; Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in D minor, K 90/L 106; Sonata for Harpsichord in C major, K 95/L 358; Sonata for Harpsichord in E major, K 134/L 221; Sonata for Harpsichord in E major, K 136/L 377; Sonata for Harpsichord in B minor, K 408/L 346; Sonata for Harpsichord in F minor, K 555/L 477.

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About C. Michael Bailey

I am sanctified and Southern fried, My mama tried and daddy cried; I tell the truth 'cept when I've lied And I like my huevos on the side...