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ClassicsOnline Home » SCARLATTI, D.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 10 (Colleen Lee)
The son of Alessandro Scarlatti, who created a new school of opera in Naples, Domenico Scarlatti is particularly distinguished for his remarkable series of 555 surviving keyboard sonatas, written while employed at the Spanish court in Madrid largely as exercises for his pupil the Infanta Maria Barbara, who became Queen of Spain in 1746. This significant addition to early 18th century keyboard repertoire has in all its variety long provided a valuable repertoire for pianists. Colleen Lee was a Finalist in the 2005 International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition.
By C. Michael Bailey
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
Contracting different artists to complete this huge project is a wise move: collectors thus have a variety of styles and sounds (some even play harpsichords, for which this music was intended!) Colleen Lee is a powerful player. It reminds me of a comment a critic made to me once, when we issued a recording of sonatinas—lightweight stuff to be sure—performed by a great European concert pianist (Marie-Aimee Varro): This is like putting a Cadillac engine in a Morris Minor.
By David Denton
Some pianists in this series - which is devoted to performances on the piano - have played everything staccato and have kept feet away from the pedals in an effort to imitate the sound of a harpsichord. The young Hong Kong pianist, Colleen Lee, has the integrity to play as if they were intended for a concert grand, her credentials as a finalist in the 2005 Frederick Chopin Piano Competition shown in the agility and clean-cut quality of her playing. Regular readers will know of my complete aversion to Scarlatti played on a modern piano, however well intended the soloist is, the result alien to the sound the composer intended. Rather like using a modern theatre organ to play Bach. Had the recording engineer dried out the sound for Lee, this would be about as good as you can get on a piano. She has been given a programme that contains a nice mixture of the short one-movement sonatas which Scarlatti would have used as basic teaching exercises, to the E minor (K81) and D minor (K90) sonatas cast in four movements and somewhat more demanding. If you want to sample Lee try track 3 (K23) where she shows a nice originality in the way she uses the repeated note to good effect. I also enjoyed the understated gravity of the D minor sonata (K41) which works well on the piano and may have been intended for use on the organ, while the tightness of her trills is estimable. So if you ignore my prejudice, you will enjoy some very pleasing playing from Lee.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757)
Complete Sonatas Vol. 10
Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685, sixth of the ten children of the composer Alessandro Scarlatti, Sicilian by birth and chiefly responsible for the early development of Neapolitan opera. The Scarlatti family had extensive involvement in music both in Rome and in Naples, where Alessandro Scarlatti became maestro di cappella to the Spanish viceroy in 1684. Domenico Scarlatti started his public career in 1701 under his father’s aegis as organist and composer in the vice-regal chapel. The following year father and son took leave of absence to explore the possibilities of employment in Florence, and Alessandro was later to exercise paternal authority by sending his son to Venice, where he remained for some four years. In 1709 Domenico entered the service of the exiled Queen of Poland, Maria Casimira, in Rome, there meeting and playing against Handel in a keyboard contest, in which the latter was declared the better organist and Scarlatti the better harpsichordist. It has been suggested that he spent a period from 1719 in Palermo, but his earlier connection with the Portuguese embassy in Rome led him before long to Lisbon, where he became music-master to the children of the royal family. This employment took him in 1728 to Madrid, when his pupil the Infanta Maria Barbara married the heir to the Spanish throne. Scarlatti apparently remained there for the rest of his life, his most considerable achievement the composition of some hundreds of single-movement sonatas or exercises, designed largely for the use of the Infanta, who became Queen of Spain in 1746.
The keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti survive in part in a number of eighteenth century manuscripts, some clearly from the collection of Queen Maria Barbara, possibly bequeathed to the great Italian castrato Farinelli, who was employed at the Spanish court, and now in Venice. Various sets of sonatas were published during the composer’s lifetime, including a set of thirty issued, seemingly, in London in 1738, and 42 published in London by Thomas Roseingrave in 1739, including the thirty already available from the earlier publication. In more recent times the sonatas were edited by Alessandro Longo, who provided the numerical listing under L., and in 1953 the American harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick offered a new listing, distinguished by the letter K. Stylistic grounds have suggested a further changed listing by Giorgio Pestelli, under the letter P., and proposing a new chronology, while Emilia Fadini, in a complete edition for Ricordi, offers a further re-ordering, based in part on the Venice volumes.
Kirkpatrick’s listing of the sonatas, based on the chronological order of the available sources, starts with the thirty Essercizi per gravicembalo offered for sale in early 1739 by Adamo Scola, ‘Musick Master in Vine Street, near Swallow Street, Piccadilly’. The publication included a dedication in Italian to the King of Portugal and a prefatory note for the purchaser, denying serious intention and modestly suggesting rather ‘lo scherzo ingegnoso dell’Arte’. The first three sonatas included here belong to this collection.
 The Sonata in D major, K.29/L.461/P.85, marked Presto, is Spanish in character, making use of characteristically wide leaps and with a distinctly concertante element.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.18/L.416/P.74, is also marked Presto. More than half the thirty Essercizi are in a minor key and the whole set offers a conspectus of the forms and techniques that appear in the sonatas as a whole.
 The Sonata in D major, K.23/L.411/P.79, marked Allegro, makes use of wide leaps from the outset and is concertante in style.
 The earliest source for the Sonata in D minor, K.41/P.37, which is not included in the Longo edition, is the collection of XLII Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin published in London in 1739 by the Irish musician Thomas Roseingrave. Marked Andante moderato, this is a fugue, perhaps composed originally with the organ in mind.
 The primary source for the Sonata in D major, K.53/L.261/P.161, is the fourteenth of the Venice volumes, dating from 1742. Marked Presto, it starts with a right-hand figure bringing wider leaps, against an accompanying trill. The sonata involves hand-crossing, after a passage of antiphonal use of right and left hand.
 The Sonata in D major, K.45/L.265/P.230, in 12/8, an Allegro, appears in the same Venice volume. It opens with the left hand entering in imitation of the right and goes on to make use of syncopation.
 The Sonata in A major, K.74/L.94/P.35, appears as No. 34 in the fourteenth Venice collection of 61 sonatas. It is one of those sonatas in which a right-hand melody is accompanied by a bass-line.
 Less usual in form is the Sonata in E minor, K.81/ L.271/P.13, with its four linked movements, Grave – Allegro – Grave – Allegro. Here a figured bass provides a left-hand accompaniment to the upper part.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.90/L.106/P.9, follows a similar pattern, its primary source No. 55 in the same Venice collection. The first two movements are marked Grave and Allegro, with the third, in 12/8, without tempo marking, before the final Allegro. Once again this is in basso continuo form, with some suggested figuration in the first movement.
 The Sonata in C major, K.95/L.358, without tempo indication, has its primary source in one of a series of collections issued in Paris before 1746 by Madame Boivin. Some have doubted the work’s authenticity. It offers a continuing triplet accompaniment for the left hand, over which the right hand crosses.
 With its primary source in the fifteenth Venice volume of 1749, the Sonata in E major, K.134/L.221/P.143, an Allegro, has the left hand in imitation of the right in the opening phrases. The sonata includes hand-crossing and has been grouped by some as the first of a triptych.
 From the same primary source comes the Sonata in E major, K.136/L.377/P.113, suggested as the third of a possible triptych, characteristic in its leaps, arpeggios and use of imitative writing.
 An Alla breve, marked Andante, the Sonata in B minor, K.408/L.346/P.350, is found in the ninth Venice volume of thirty sonatas, dated 1754. The left hand enters in imitation of the right and there is variation between duple and triple metre.
 The last sonata in Kirkpatrick’s listing is the Sonata in F minor, K.555/L.477/P.559. This is found in the fifteenth of the volumes of Scarlatti sonatas preserved in Parma, dated 1757, and largely in the same hand as the Venice volumes. In 6/8 it is polyphonic in character, its opening based on a descending scale.
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