Richard Lester

Domenico Scarlatti: The Complete Sonatas, Vol. 1

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This four-disc set begins the reissue of a complete recording of Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas, recorded between 2000 and 2004 and originally issued on an unwieldy collection of single discs on the tiny Privilege Accord label. The complete oeuvre runs to 38 CDs, which will now be packaged in seven boxes. Some may mistrust any classical project that describes itself with the word "marathon," but the endless variety of Scarlatti's sonatas compels the skeptic to make an exception; a complete set turns up any number of deliciously bizarre pieces like the Sonata in A minor, K. 3, from the Essercizi per gravicembalo (CD 1, track 3), with its cascades of five-note runs meandering out into strange chromatic lines. There are several complete sets on the market, but Lester's is the one that consistently pushes boundaries. His playing is intense, sharp, and powerfully rhythmic. Sonatas with hints of Spanish dance rhythms (or more than hints, as in the Sonata in E major, K. 28 [CD 2, track 13]) emphasize those rhythms, and virtuoso pieces such as those published in the Essercizi strain forward in the fast passages. Lester uses a variety of instruments in the set, making the unorthodox decision to employ organ or fortepiano in other volumes, but here sticking to several harpsichords with a powerful, percussive tone. All these traits add up to an interpretation that portrays Scarlatti as an almost Lisztian virtuoso -- an interpretation to which his music certainly stands up. Restraint is not necessarily a virtue with this composer who combined flashy virtuosity with groundbreaking stylistic innovation.

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