Colleen Lee

Scarlatti: Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 10

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Scarlatti: Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 10 Review

by James Manheim

Faced with strong competition from several all-harpsichord (or almost all-harpsichord) complete sets of Domenico Scarlatti's more than 550 keyboard sonatas, the Naxos label made the inventive and happy decision to try a new approach: each new disc in the series has been performed by a different keyboardist, with harpsichords, pianos, and even organs all represented. The harpsichord is undeniably better suited to bringing out some of the features of the music, such as the little flamenco moves in the Sonata in D major, K. 29 (track 1) that brilliantly contrast with all the crossed-hand passagework. Yet the music is a lot of fun to hear on a piano, partly because it's more difficult when played that way. The young Hong Kong pianist Colleen Lee is crisp and exciting in the fast passagework, and she has a certain flair that fits the music as well as, or arguably better than, Mikhail Pletnev's more virtuosic but also more stylized readings of Scarlatti sonatas. Lee's approach is in the old Baroque piano mainstream, with sharp articulation, clear delineation of interior lines, sparing use of the pedal restricted mostly to legato, lyrical passages, and a judicious use of dynamic and tempo alterations to build intensity. Sample the Sonata in E major, K. 134 (track 11), with its complex migrations of little motives through different registers of the keyboard, to hear Lee's clear renderings, which are compelling in their technique while completely avoiding flashiness. The sound, captured in a small concert hall in Britain's Suffolk region, lets Lee's technique shine through unimpeded, and there's an X factor in these performances, having to do with a young artist excitedly growing into material at the very edge of her comfort zone, that makes this a very strong entry in an already strong series.

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