Joanna Leach

16 Scarlatti Sonatas

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AllMusic Review by

Pianist Joanna Leach has recorded a number of works of the early nineteenth century on the square piano -- a box-shaped household instrument that flourished in England, especially, at the time. The perorations ofBeethoven's "Emperor" Concerto may make you forget that a good deal of piano music, from Haydn to Chopin, was written for small rooms and intimate audiences. The 1823 Stodart square piano heard on this recording transmits a bit of action noise to the listener, but it's lovely, with a wide expressive range even as it resides at the quieter end of the dynamic spectrum. The rationale for using such a piano in Scarlatti's sonatas is rooted only to a small degree in historical circumstances -- Scarlatti may have experimented with very early pianos, and the popularity of his sonatas certainly extended into the nineteenth century. Instead, Leach aims toward the creation of a unique sound and in large part succeeds. The defects of this recording are the same as those of most other piano recordings of Scarlatti -- the startling textural effects of his music, dependent on an architecture of dynamic terraces, is partly lost if the player starts lying on the pedal treating the phrase ends as if they came out of Chopin. Annotator Mike Beville points to Scarlatti's penchant for incorporating percussive, guitar-like effects into his keyboard music, and these too are more easily rendered on a harpsichord. Yet of course there are numerous effective performances of Scarlatti on a modern piano, and this disc amplifies some common positive qualities as well. The harmonic richness of Scarlatti's music is especially subtly rendered in Leach's playing, and she strikes a nifty middle path between a Baroque pulse and a nineteenth century rhythmic freedom, often gracefully shading off from one to the other as a period nears its end. A unique disc that would make a good gift for the Scarlatti enthusiast.

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