Scarlatti: Harpsichord Sonatas

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Scarlatti
WORKS: Harpsichord Sonatas
PERFORMER: Bob van Asperen (harpsichord)
Scanning the line-up of Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, replete with Longo, Kirkpatrick or even Pestelli numbers, on the back of a CD can be a dispiriting experience. Why don’t more of them have names, if only to break up the serried ranks? But then there is the music: a world of brilliant virtuosity, ear-catching melody and audacious harmonic sleight of hand. All these qualities feature in abundance in this recital of sixteen sonatas by Bob van Asperen. It is a well-contrasted selection, of which the best known sonatas will be the E major (K380) and the C major (K159), but there is much else to divert the ear. Just try jumping in with the wayward charms of K215 in E major.

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Bob van Asperen’s playing is brilliant and sensitive in equal proportions. His is a virtuosity which allows the music to breathe. A natural-sounding inequality is used to shade some of the most demanding scale passages, for example, those in the B minor Sonata, K377. The Dulcken copy he plays sounds well, but I could have done with another instrument for contrast.

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The real gripe, and this seems to be a perennial one, is the nature of the recording. At best, with a single register, it is bright, and at worst it feels like sitting uncomfortably close to the tail of the instrument in a marble-lined chamber. In the Sonata in E major (K206) the harpsichord sounds for all the world like a mechanical clock; a real pity and no way to serve playing of this distinction. Jan Smaczny