Featured recording: Scarlatti – Sonatas played by Anne Quéffelec (Mirare)
A disc of keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, played by the highly respected French pianist Anne Quéffelec. With 550 of these works to choose from, she has made a thoroughly entertaining recital of 18!
What’s the music like?
You could play ten Scarlatti keyboard sonatas a week and still have 35 left over at the end of the year! The pieces are typically around four minutes in length, and often in two sections, each repeated. In that time Scarlatti explores the development of melodic ideas, the best known sonatas having many. In that sense Scarlatti is one of the first composers to have explored the idea of using the sonata as a principal means of expression.
Scarlatti recital discs are relatively common, but the best ones show off the extraordinary variety and inventiveness within these works, programming them so that they don’t become ‘samey’. It helps to have the key choices worked out well, too – twenty works in C major, for instance, will not a good disc make!
Although Scarlatti works well on the harpsichord, I would maintain the sonatas are more suitable for the piano. As Anne Quéffelec writes in the booklet, “to move from the harpsichord to the piano is already to open the doors to the wide-open spaces of liberty”. Quéffelec clearly loves Scarlatti and here, 45 years on from her recording debut, she returns to his music.
Does it all work?
It does so here – emphatically. Anne Quéffelec is a skilful and stylish player, and Scarlatti comes alive in her hands. A lot of this music is played with a smile on the face, and is beautifully clarified and expressed.
There are many examples of this, but the most enjoyable are the playful tumbling figures in the right hand of the G major Sonata (published as K103), the soft and lightly sorrowful D minor work (K54) and the magical, slow K144, also in G major, and seemingly the forerunner of a Mozart slow movement. This is followed by another G major sonata, K260 – a very odd piece, this, going to weird and unexpected harmonic lengths, delaying its sense of a resolution. The perky figures of the B flat major sonata, K551, anticipate Beethoven with their upward ascents.
Meanwhile the Sonata in D major, K145, is notable for its jarring dissonances and is probably the most enjoyable of all with its faux-politeness and then complete disregard for convention. Only just behind this are the bird-like calls of the first on the album, the C major sonata (K420). Even then the examples listed above are just a hint of what the album contains!
Is it recommended?
Without hesitation. It is not an insult to Scarlatti to say his music is great for working to in the right performances, for it inspires clarity of thought but also a few flights of fancy in its sudden tangents and deviations. Quéffelec channels all these and more in performances of obvious affection and flair.
Listen on Quboz
You can get a preview of Anne Quéffelec’s Scarlatti album here