Federico Colli

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas, Vol. 1

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Even among confirmed period-instrument fans, the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti seem to point toward modern pianism. For one thing, some of his music was apparently played on an early fortepiano. And more importantly, the music itself was radical in its time, shattering the block architecture of Baroque music in search of a variety of moods and effects. All this granted, these performances of 16 Scarlatti sonatas, confidently designated as piano works, enter entirely new realms. Charismatic, curly-haired young Italian pianist Federico Colli brings Scarlatti all the way into Romantic piano territory, varying the tempo, applying the pedal, and including several of the names added by 19th century pianist Hans von Bülow. He even furnishes his own notes, explaining the program's division of the sonatas into phases titled with such thoroughly Romantic concepts as "The Power of Illusion," "Live Happily!," "The Return to Order," and "Enchantment and Prayer." Colli relates these to themes in Scarlatti's life, a dubious practice given that the chronology of the sonatas is far from clear, and that the whole exercise is entirely ahistorical. But here's the thing: there's a lot working in Colli's favor. He's just a tremendously exciting pianist all around, and he can make a simple trill into something compelling. And his readings, wild as they may be, are rooted in the forward-looking nature of the sonatas. Sample the Sonata in A major, K. 39, which in Colli's hands seems to point directly to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, No. 2, in the same key. (One of Bülow's labels, for the F major sonata preceding this one on the program, is "Scherzo," and the designation is apt.) The whole thing seems crazy, but it's often convincing, and it demands to be heard. The album is marked Vol. 1, and it's not clear how many more there will be. But strap in for the ride while it lasts!

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