A thrilling piano ‘recreation’ of Baroque sonatas

Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) was a master of the keyboard, particularly the signature instrument of the era the harpsichord.  He was an exact contemporary of Handel and Corelli, and by an early age was already a fixture in the important creative circles of Rome.  It was in Rome where Scarlatti met Handel, and in a somewhat apocryphal story he met Handel is a battle of keyboard supremacy; according to the tale Handel was the victor on the organ, but Scarlatti bested him on the harpsichord.

Scarlatti spent half of his life serving the royal courts in Lisbon and Madrid, and his most important musical contributions are his 555 keyboard sonatas, written for the harpsichord. (Many of his other compositions, including numerous operas and vocal or choral works, are lost.) These works demonstrate a remarkable inventiveness in their use of native Iberian folk music, irregular chord progressions, dissonance, and most of all in the employment of his own masterful (and often idiosyncratic) technique. Scarlatti’s distinctive style and the works that he penned have remained a source of inspiration and debate for performers and composers up to this very day. In fact, his status has grown tremendously since the mid-nineteenth century, when he and his works were largely forgotten, and especially through the course of the late-twentieth century.

Scarlatti Recreated is a project brought to fruition by pianist Sandro Russo, who is based in both New York and his native Italy. This album contains nineteen pieces by ten composers, including four world-premiere recordings. There are six piano arrangements of the keyboard sonatas by a trio of mid-nineteenth century composers (two each): Carl Tausig, Louis Brassin, and Ignaz Friedman. In the early 1900s Spanish pianist and composer Enrique Granados loosely arranged 26 Scarlatti sonatas into his Ventiséis Sonatas Inéditas para clave, adding his own editorial sensibility and embellishments.  His luxurious writing exalts in full the Spanish aromas of these sonatas, adding imaginative melodic and rhythmic ornamentation.  Scarlatti Recreated presents seven of these works.

Of the six hommages to Scarlatti on this album, Carl Czerny‘s Sonata in the Style of Domenico Scarlatti is the earliest, a reevaluation of Scarlatti’s oeuvre and legacy through the “Beethovenian” lens of the early-nineteenth century.  Czerny was a student of Beethoven and a teacher to Liszt, a prolific pedagogue of the first order who was renowned for his ability to play in the style of any period or performer.  Pianist Charles Valentin-Alkan‘s compositions are often technically demanding, and his inscription of “Alla D. Scarlatti” on the manuscript for his Duettino is ostensibly a cue to keep in mind the turbulent structures and often-dazzling fingerings of Scarlatti’s sonatas.

Scarlatti was largely ignored for a century, but since the mid-twentieth century has found favor among a growing number of composers and performers.  French Canadian pianist and composer Marc-André Hamelin, renowned for championing lesser-known composers, lauds the “marvelous invention and amazing variety” of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas; though his Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti treats the subject in a less-than-serious manner, it is an affectionate tribute which captures the spirit of Scarlatti’s ebullient and acrobatic style.  Jean Françaix is well-remembered for his exceptionally lively virtuoso performances, making Scarlatti a perfect fit for his repertoire; his Hommage à Domenico Scarlatti, which is taken from a suite of six homages to composers, demonstrates Françaix’s dexterity and sensitivity to Scarlatti’s idiosyncrasies.  Raymond Lewenthal is considered the father of the “Romantic Revival” of the 1960s, and his Toccata alla Scarlatti employs Scarlatti’s signature dissonances and irregularity but is still a thoroughly twentieth century piece.  The final work on this album, Michael Habermann‘s Homage to Domenico Scarlatti, is marked with humorous and mischievous twists, full of dissonant phrases and repeated elements as in Scarlatti’s own compositions.

Sandro Russo’s sparkling virtuosic skill is perfectly matched to this oft-demanding repertoire.  The composer Lowell Liebermann wrote of Russo, “There is no technical challenge too great for him, but it is his musicianship that ultimately makes the greatest impression.”  Russo conceived of this project and has executed it brilliantly.  Due to the more dynamic nature of the piano, these compositions add rich textural and timbric elements to the harpsichord works from which they were based.  Upon this Russo adds imparts his own pronounced signature, revealing his own considerable artistry and sensitivity as well as the exceptional technical adroitness needed to realize these pieces.  We are excited to release this remarkable album, and greatly look forward to working with Sandro on future projects.

Please click on the cover image above, or click here, to visit the catalogue page for Scarlatti Recreated for a complete track listing, links to purchase this album, and a downloadable PDF of the liner notes from this release.

Click here to visit Sandro Russo’s website.