Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas in D minor, Kk9, in C major, Kk159, in B minor, Kk87, in D major, Kk29, in A major, Kk113, in D major, Kk430, in G minor, in G major, Kk13, in B minor, Kk27, in D major, Kk140, in D minor, Kk141, in F minor, Kk69, in G major, Kk427, in A minor, Kk109, in D major, Kk96, & in E major, Kk380
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Recording: Beethovensaal, Hanover, Germany (February 25-27, 2015) – 76’10
Hyperion CDA67613 – Booklet in English, German and French
Angela Hewitt has accomplished an enormous amount from the start of her career, a career which includes her earliest student days. Her most impressive achievement, however, is that now in her 50s she is continuing to develop as an artist and musician from every perspective. Her new Scarlatti CD may well be her best work yet – the range of style, scholarship and virtuosity she displays here are astounding. Hewitt has done her homework for this project, for sure, yet when all is said and done, she has consolidated these elements into performances which are uniquely personal. While some of the Sonatas included are among the most familiar, she brings freshness and novelty to all of them and does so without contrivance or affectation.
Listening closely to this CD will be an experience of discovery for listeners. Hewitt’s approach to Scarlatti is direct, deliberate, even austere, however never slow or stodgy. Scholarship and soul coexist beautifully in these performances.
The CD begins with the Sonata in D minor, Kk9, stately and elegantly Baroque with an emphasis on lyricism and phrasing as much as contrapuntal elements. Next is the lively Sonata in C major, Kk159 with its energetic horn motif and staccato obbligato which is clearly defined though never exaggerated under Hewitt’s hands. The more melancholy Sonata in B minor, Kk87 leads to the Sonata in D major, Kk29 which, as Hewitt mentions in her booklet essay, may be a template for segments of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, composed just a few years later. This is a genuine stunt piece, and Hewitt tosses it off with an alacrity that invokes both Glenn Gould and Vladimir Horowitz, gleefully displaying their most hairpin-bend virtuosity.
Hewitt performs the Sonata in D major, Kk430 more slowly than most, like a slow dance with constant rich detail. In her notes she comments on the controversial directive “Allegro” for the Sonata in G minor, Kk8 and references Ralph Kirkpatrick, the scholar who suggested these directives that refer more to the rhythm’s character than actual tempo. Again, she plays this one slowly, emphasizing the range of expression within the ongoing dotted note melody. Similarly, in the Sonata in G major, Kk13 Hewitt relishes the elegantly descending chord main melody, sometimes juxtaposed with a repeated bass note, not unlike the “Gavotte” from Bach’s English Suite N° 3 in G minor.
She speaks of the minimalist quality of the Sonata in B minor, Kk27, again emphasizing melody over counterpoint. Then, there’s a huge contrast with the dramatic, almost programmatic Sonata in D major, Kk140 with its horn summons and range of mood almost prefiguring one of Chopin’s Ballades. The Sonata in D minor, Kk141 opens with a wild repeated-note melody which Hewitt tosses off with effortless aplomb, and soon leads to fast-scale melodies which are equally spectacular – another highlight from the disc, for sure. In the Sonata in F minor, Kk69 melodic elements again predominate, leading to a poignant tierce de Picardie chord for the final repeat.
Perhaps to face competition head on, Hewitt concludes the disc with not one, but two Horowitz staples, both of which were re-released a year ago by SONY Classical in a new, much revered ‘blu-spec’ CD of the pianist’s major Scarlatti recordings from 1962-68. The Sonata in D major, Kk96 is another showpiece, which Horowitz had used to end the first side of his iconic 1965 LP for Columbia Records. It starts with an extended horn-like cadence, soon evolving into melodies composed of elaborate double trills (the type Beethoven and Chopin used in their late piano works) then ultra-fast repeated notes. Hewitt brought down the house with a live performance of this in Ottawa in January, 2015 (Read here), just a few weeks before she made this new recording which, let’s just say, will not disappoint listeners in Ottawa or elsewhere.
Finally, she plays the exquisitely lyrical Sonata in E major, Kk380, relishing every note, every phrase, every pause, fully communicating the “courtly elegance” she mentions again in her essay. Hewitt mentions often playing this as an encore, and it provides a lovely and memorable conclusion to this stunning disc.
Charles Pope Jr.