Déjà Review: this review was first published in March 2005 and the recording is still available.

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonatas K545, K466, K365, K435, K87, K487, K448, K492, K30, K455, K20, K429, K426, K427, K197, K27, K24, G minor – Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
rec. 2004, Västerås Concert Hall, Västerås, Sweden
BIS BIS-CD-1508 [76]

“Reader […] show yourself more human than critical and then your pleasure will increase.” With these words as preface to the publication of his sonatas in 1738, Scarlatti provided a timely reminder to anyone – particularly a critic – of the perils of over-criticism. Such is the constant invention shown within the sinews of the 555 sonatas he penned that he need not have worried, having held the constant attention of players and audience alike.

I have much anticipated this recording since hearing Yevgeny Sudbin in recital at Wigmore Hall earlier this year. (There is a review of this recital on the Seen and Heard site. It is the first of three under his new contract with BIS. Saint Petersburg born Sudbin is clearly a young artist with a formidable technique and enquiring mind.

The task of showing a cross-section of Scarlatti’s sonata output is not easy. Sudbin’s choice of eighteen favours the later sonatas, whilst taking in examples that cover a range of forms (including the fugue), wide variety of moods from savage to refined, and effects inherent within the writing: brass, woodwind, drums and bells. The recital starts in gloriously upbeat fashion – the bright and well-focussed piano has just enough bloom in the middle register, and slight (though appealing) edge to the top register bring a harpsichord to mind, fittingly so in this repertoire.

In contrast the second sonata presented (K. 466) is more reflective and inward looking, caught as most are here with a good sense of space around the notes that allows inner thoughts to come through. Throughout the sequence mixes the works to play off one against another to bring out a different facet of a jewel within a setting. The ease with which Sudbin throws off the technical demands of the works does not overshadow his musical instinct, or those inherent within sonatas. Rhythmically alive, each holds the attention from the first. Periodically textures in the lower register faster passages become slightly muddied – caused more I suspect by the writing than the playing – prompting one to question how they might sound on a harpsichord. Sudbin’s suggestion that Scarlatti anticipated the modern piano is interesting, as is the reticence of harpsichordists in taking up this repertoire today.

As I have suggested, Sudbin’s booklet note adds further to the pleasure of the recording, describing in detail the Spanish court that gave birth this unique harvest of fruit, and a brief reflection on the revival of interest in the sonatas, mentioning Sudbin’s most prominent rivals on disc: Michelangeli, Haskil and Lipatti. Whilst I would not be without any of these illustrious pianists’ recordings, Sudbin provides his own insights, although he does not perhaps “seemingly do nothing and in so doing do everything” (to quote Lipatti on Haskil’s Scarlatti playing). Amongst pianists of the younger generation that have taken on Scarlatti – Artur Pizarro or Joanna MacGregor (originally on Collins Classics, hopefully to be soon reissued) or Mihaela Ursuleasa – Sudbin also holds his own. Just occasionally do I wish that Sudbin had found more touches of wit within individual sonatas.

In summation then, a pianist to watch out for, and a recording that need not fear critical listening, for it certainly has much pleasure to give to anyone wishing to discover or extend their appreciation of this rich vein of keyboard writing.

Evan Dickerson

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