Ewald Demeyere

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas for harpsichord

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The conception outlined in the booklet doesn't quite match what you get in the disc in this selection of Domenico Scarlatti keyboard sonatas by a young Belgian harpsichordist, Ewald Demeyere. Annotator W. Dean Sutcliffe uses as a straw man some 1928 remarks on Scarlatti by historian Cecil Gray, to the effect that "one may seek in vain for any trace of human sensibility or emotion" in Scarlatti's works. Sutcliffe goes on to frame Scarlatti's language as expressive rather than merely virtuosic, which is reasonable enough. But it's wrong to beat up on a piece of writing from a time when Baroque music was so little understood that violinist Fritz Kreisler could get away with fake Baroque pieces that don't sound Baroque at all. And expressivity is not really the quality Demeyere strives for. He uses a contemporary Italian copy of a 1756 Parisian harpsichord that was all about sheer power and glitter, and his playing is hard-edged indeed, with pulsing rhythms and sharp articulation of every note. Thorough attention to detail keeps Demeyere's playing from seeming mechanical; he crunches out each dissonance that spices Scarlatti's music and isolates each interior voice. His interpretation has some flair, with smooth passagework set in sharp contrast against vigorous, punchy rhythms. In a rhythmically catchy work like the Sonata in C major, K. 487, Demeyere's approach works great, and in general on this one-disc selection of sonatas he has picked fast, dense pieces that fit his style. His andante introductions have an oddly brittle quality, and it may be that his playing is more suited to Bach, his specialty until now, than to the ultimately lighter Scarlatti, but this recording will certainly catch the attention of people who gave up on Baroque music years ago because it all sounded too sweet.

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