Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas, volume 1 (Chandos)
★★★★ (out of five)
It feels dangerously transgressive, and thus all the more enjoyable, to listen to Scarlatti’s keyboard pieces on a full-throated Steinway D piano set up in an English country barn. Why musicians submit so readily to the tyranny of political correctness — composers to the imposition of serialism, performers to the doctrines of period practice — is a mystery to me. So to find a young pianist at the start of his path who is prepared to defy the professorial rule makers and play a Bach contemporary on a modern big banger of a concert grand is a joy that restores my faith in musical free-thinkers.
Domenico Scarlatti, born in Naples in 1685, clashed styles with Handel in Rome and went on to teach a princess in Lisbon, spending the rest of his life in Portugal and Spain. He found a kind of personal fusion between ornate Italian and austere Iberian sounds and expressed himself fulsomely in a voluminous output of 555 keyboard sonatas. (You do wonder if there is a 556th sonata tucked away somewhere that was suppressed in order to preserve the memorable symmetry.)
Federico Colli, Leeds winner in 2012 and now 30 years old, seems to regard the sonatas as a form of escapism, a place where Scarlatti vented frustration at his marginal situation while Bach and Handel were plundering the rest of Europe. Colli plays the sonatas in an order of his own choosing to reflect the composer’s fickle moods. Not being familiar with more than two of the pieces in this first volume I am in no position to judge the authenticity of this order — but to hell with authenticity. What we get here is music-making of rare conviction and exuberance, a vitality that sweeps you up in a tide of invention and leaves you, after a fleeting hour, positively gagging for the second volume. Scarlatti hasn’t been this much fun since Horowitz left it off his encores list. Bookmark this project, a milestone in modern recording, and buy a birthday copy for each of your vegan, period-practice friends.