Justin Taylor

Continuum: Scarlatti, Ligeti

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For this 2018 Alpha release of harpsichord works by Domenico Scarlatti and György Ligeti, Justin Taylor presents a stimulating program that constantly surprises. Playing a modern copy of a Ruckers-Hemsch harpsichord by Anthony Sidey and Frédéric Bal, Taylor explores points in common between these composers -- their virtuosity, wit, and clarity of musical thought -- even though the pairing of a Baroque master and an experimental modernist isn't an obvious choice. Three groupings of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas alternate with three free-standing, short pieces by Ligeti -- the Passacaglia Ungherese, Hungarian Rock (Chaconne), and the tour de force Continuum -- so a sense of balanced representation is attempted. However, if one were to suppose that durations are all that matter, Ligeti comes out on the short end of the playlist, even though the impact of his challenging pieces may be roughly equivalent to the effect of Scarlatti's more approachable sonatas. Yet the interplay between Scarlatti and Ligeti may cause a heightened sense of curiosity and intellectual pleasure, the kind one feels when solving a puzzle or cracking a code. Recordings of Scarlatti's sonatas are plentiful, both on harpsichord and piano, while Ligeti's pieces are comparatively scarce on CD, though for Taylor's purposes this disparity is irrelevant. What matters most is the brilliance of these composers and Taylor's energetic execution, which will make listeners sit up and take notice. Alpha's recorded sound is quite close to the harpsichord, so every detail is crisp, clean, and fully audible.

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