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Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Works transcribed by Matêj Freml
Sonata in G major, K.33 [4:27]
Sonata in D major, K.208 [3:41]
Sonata in D major, K.209 [4:48] Scarlatti Sonatas tr. guitars UP0154-2 131S
Sonata in G minor, K.466 [7:53]
Sonata in G minor, K.467 [3:26]
Sonata in A minor, K.417 [5:16]
Sonata in D major, K.491 [5:05]
Sonata in A minor, K 238 [5:19]
Sonata in A minor, K.239 [3:28]
Sonata in D minor, K.30 [4:33]
Siempre Nuevo (Matêj Freml and Patrick Vacík (guitars)) rec. Casa Giovanni di Mattoni, Hauzenberg, Bavaria, 22-24 August 2011. DDD
ARCODIVA UP 0154-2 131 [48:11]

Musicological argument continues intermittently as to the instrument for which Scarlatti wrote his sonatas - or, indeed, that on which he normally played them: harpsichord or fortepiano. In later centuries there have been many rewarding performances on the modern concert grand, by Gieseking, Horowitz and Mikhail Pletnev. All of this suggests that the virtues of the music are not inextricably bound up with the possibilities of a specific instrument. That is confirmed by the success of arrangements and orchestrations of the sonatas, such as Charles Avison’s Twelve Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti (1743-44) or, nearer our own time, of Shostakovich’s astonishing arrangements of K9 and K20 for wind band.
 
Given that the music of the Spanish guitar clearly influenced elements of what Scarlatti did in these sonatas, arrangements of his music for that instrument make particularly good sense. There have been fine arrangements for/performances on solo guitar by, inter alia, Claudio Giuliani, Carlo Marchione, David Russell, Eliot Fisk, David Tanenbaum and Stephen Marchionda. Now here is a rewarding programme of transcriptions for two guitars, played by the Czech duo Siempre Nuevo. Siempre Nuevo consists of Matêj Freml and Patrick Vacík and all the transcriptions played on this CD are the work of Matêj Freml.
 
The solo guitar cannot really match the textural complexity possible on the harpsichord. This is not to take sides in the argument about which keyboard instrument Scarlatti was writing for. The use of two guitars goes some way towards overcoming this limitation, especially when the two instrumentalists work together as well, as symbiotically as Freml and Vacík do. All of the pieces here make for enjoyable listening, though it can’t, I think, be said that there are any cases where what is to be heard actually sounds like an improvement on the same sonata interpreted by, say, Scott Ross. The rhythmic patterns of K.33 (a lively allegro) sound particularly effective in this format; K.208 (marked Andante é cantabile), on the other hand, lacks the plangent lyricism that a good keyboard performance articulates. Indeed, the faster movements/sonatas, work better, on the whole, than the slower ones on this disc. One exception is the movingly poignant performance of K.208. The performance of K.209, a piece which echoes with the dance rhythms of the jota - a dance Scarlatti would certainly have encountered in his years in Spain - is particularly delightful, as is the fandango-based K.239.

Scarlatti is a quintessentially Mediterranean composer. Much of his nature and of his remarkable body of sonatas is summed up memorably, if somewhat lavishly, by Sacheverell Sitwell (in his Southern Baroque Revisited, 1967) when he writes “His Latinity, of Sicilian and Parthenopaean [i.e. Neapolitan] origin, and of Roman and Venetian experience, found its fulfilment in the Spanish setting”. Perhaps Freml and Vacík, for all their skills, don’t quite do justice to the Mediterranean dimension of Scarlatti’s work, to its passionate outbursts and occasional wildness. This is in part, I suspect, a matter of the choice of sonatas, and partly a matter of a degree of reserve in their playing. What they do is renew one’s sense that what Sitwell wrote (in the same book), on the basis of an incomplete acquaintance with the sonatas, offer an important perception “taking into consideration all the different facets in his huge and varied output, it would seem that Domenico Scarlatti did not anticipate the development of the modern pianoforte. His bias would appear to have been towards the progression and perfection of mandoline and guitar subjects, but in directions and dimensions of which those instruments in themselves are incapable”.
 
This, then, is a disc of interest and value in itself in ways which should please and interest aficionadi of the guitar and which also, intentionally or otherwise, makes one think again about Scarlatti’s remarkable sonatas.
 
Glyn Pursglove 

A disc of interest and value which also makes one think again about Scarlatti’s remarkable sonatas.