Francesco Nicolosi

Domenico Scarlatti: Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 9

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Kudos to Naxos for the way it has handled its ongoing series covering Domenico's enormous body of keyboard sonatas: in a repertory only (at best) loosely divisible into chronological or stylistic groupings, they have opted instead to divide the sonatas up among different performers. The buyer gets to look at these miniature masterworks, which can be performed in so many different ways, through different lenses. The label has not shied away from strongly pianistic readings of the sort that were heard 50 years ago, when Scarlatti was one of the few Baroque composers known outside small circles of performers and supporting enthusiasts. This volume is by Francesco Nicolosi, an Italian pianist who has specialized in the likes of Thalberg and Liszt, so it's no surprise it falls into the highly pianistic category. Nicolosi uses heavy dynamic contrasts and plenty of pedal. In the faster works he is given to bending the tempo a bit, especially toward the ends of phrases. Check out the Sonata in C minor, K. 139 (track 5), with distinct slowdowns on the highly progressive dominants that clearly mark out the reappearances of the tonic key. Nicolosi takes his time on these, which is one of several devices that make Scarlatti seem here like some kind of immediate predecessor to Chopin. Another is the murky pedaling in the slower pieces, several of which are quite long; the opening Sonata in D minor, K. 52, at more than seven and a half minutes, has the feel of Liszt in one of his more Bach-obsessed moments. The good news is that Nicolosi is among the group that, in Charles Burney's words, "have now perseverance sufficient to vanquish [the] peculiar difficulties of execution" in these sonatas, and he never uses the pedal to mask any of the hand crossings or other brilliant effects. The harpsichord brings out colors in Scarlatti's work (Spanish ones, for example) that aren't available on the piano, but the advantage of the Naxos approach is that the buyer can sample individual discs without becoming enmeshed in the entire series, and Nicolosi's Romantic treatments are well suited to several of the pieces chosen here.

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