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CD Review

Domenico Scarlatti

Keyboard Sonatas, Volume 7

  • Sonata in F Major, K. 483/L.472/P.407
  • Sonata in F Major, K. 542/L.167/P.546
  • Sonata in B Flat Major, K. 360/L.400/P.520
  • Sonata in C minor, K. 40/L.357/P.119
  • Sonata in C Major, K. 422/L.451/P.511
  • Sonata in F minor, K. 238/L.27/P.55
  • Sonata in F Major, K. 17/L.384/P.73
  • Sonata in A Major, K. 500/L.492/P.358
  • Sonata in A Major, K. 114/L.344/P.141
  • Sonata in E minor, K. 291/L.61/P.282
  • Sonata in G Major, K. 328/LS.27/P.485
  • Sonata in A Major, K. 320/L.341/P.335
  • Sonata in G Major, K. 283/L.318/P.482
  • Sonata in C Major, K. 464/L.151/P.460
  • Sonata in D Major, K. 313/L.192/P.398
  • Sonata in D Major, K. 479/LS.16/P.380
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano
Naxos 8.554842
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Each volume to date in the Naxos project to record the entire keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti has featured a different pianist, and the newest volume brings us the exceptional Konstantin Scherbakov who has received much praise for his recordings of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff.

From a pianistic and technical viewpoint, Scherbakov leaves his Naxos predecessors in the dust. His tone is perfect, his phrasing is perfect, his trills are perfect – the man has total control of the resources offered by the modern piano. Perhaps most impressive is the range of his articulation and dynamics which is simply amazing.

Of course, the above represent generic attributes, and the issue remains whether Scherbakov well serves the specific music he is playing. My conclusion is that he does not, and I find his interpretations less satisfying than in the previous Naxos volumes. How can this be? Well, one sure way to butcher Scarlatti keyboard music is to use the piano to smooth over Scarlatti's sharp contours. About a year ago, I gave a negative review to the smooth performances of Christian Zacharias on an Dabringhaus & Grimm disc of Scarlatti sonatas. However, Scherbakov takes the smooth route infrequently. Actually, he's generally sharp as a razor and also excellently captures the impetuosity so prevalent in Scarlatti's sound world.

After a few hearings, I started thinking that Scherbakov's underplaying of lower voices and other secondary musical lines might be the basic problem. This is an approach that Scherbakov often takes, and I find it to damage the forward thrust of the music. In effect, it's a precious and even effeminate way to play Scarlatti. On the other hand, Scherbakov also displays an abundance of bold projection, so I concluded that the source problem had to reside elsewhere.

At this point, I went back to the six earlier Naxos volumes and the widely heralded 2CD set from Mikhail Pletnev on Virgin Classics. Listening to these other recordings quickly gave me the answer. They are more enjoyable than Scherbakov because they bring out the youthful, unbridled, and carefree joy of the sonatas in the major keys. Scherbakov is just too serious in these pieces and a 'downer' from start to finish. When moving from Shostakovich/Rachmaninoff to major key Scarlatti, one needs to lighten up and break free of the stresses of life. From my perspective, Scherbakov has not fully made the transition. What's ironic about this is that Scherbakov also doesn't fully capture the sadness of the three minor key sonatas. Essentially, he's serious in all the wrong places.

I should report that every comment I've heard about this new disc has been very favorable, so I must conclude that my view is in the minority. My best advice is to sample the first track, the Sonata K. 483; it has the underplayed musical lines and the relatively serious Scherbakov treatment. If the performance is to your liking, rest assured that you will reap great rewards from the entire disc. One thing is certain - Scherbakov will not remind you of any of the previous volumes in this valuable Naxos series.

Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz