D Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 5

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COMPOSERS: D Scarlatti
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 5
PERFORMER: Benjamin Frith (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554792
Scarlatti’s sonatas are appearing apace nowadays, with several complete collections in the pipeline. Kenneth Weiss offers a random selection. He’s a fine technician: Scarlatti’s taxing demands lie securely under his fingers, he structures phrases subtly, and he’s well recorded on a copy of a Ruckers harpsichord. However, he plays unforgivably fast and loose with repeats, mostly omitting them altogether. So striking key-relationships are lost – ‘A’ sections are denied their first repeats before launching into new areas of tonal drama; half-length sonatas become merely trivialised, flashing past before their distinctive character has time fully to penetrate the mind. The booklet notes don’t help – a contrived alphabet of references, (A=acciaccaturas, B=Burney…) offering little coherent commentary on this startlingly innovative repertoire.

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Francesco Cera reflects the raw Iberian folk element in his selection from a collection intended for Scarlatti’s long-term patroness, Queen Maria Barbara of Spain. Close recording reveals clattering registration changes during rests, and some mighty thumps as Cera ends a descending arpeggiated cascade. He can play with elegant grace though, and the unequally tempered tuning of his Italian instrument adds pathos to the last, F minor Sonata of the disc.

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Benjamin Frith is an inspired choice for the fifth disc in Naxos’s cycle, a compelling advocate of the piano, distilling the essence of harpsichord techniques – the sparkle of plucked strings, coruscating articulation, layered contrasts and unaccented ornaments. But this is no mere mimicry; rather, he transports the music to the new medium, capitalising on the piano’s ability to pick out a strand, shape dynamics and bathe textures in subtle pedalling, without ever misrepresenting Scarlatti – a disc to convert the most diehard authenticist. George Pratt