Federico Colli is a former winner of the Mozart and Leeds International Piano competitions. He is becoming increasingly renowned for his imaginative interpretations and his awesome technical prowess. This is his first Scarlatti disc, with more to follow, as the notes describe it as Volume 1. Colli lists these 16 sonatas under four chapter headings – see the programme at the end. I was not completely sold on the chapter idea but if it works for the performer then so be it.
Colli, like Horowitz and many others, uses the full resources of the concert grand. At the same time the performances are tasteful and there is a clear appreciation of Baroque period conventions. The ornamentation is exquisite, the hand crossing and virtuoso passagework is brilliantly executed, and there is a wide, finely calibrated range of dynamics.
There is much to admire in Colli’s performance of the opening four sonatas. The ornate, harpsichord-style effects are tastefully executed in the F Minor Sonata KK19. Colli uses a wide variety of touch to superb effect. The famous ‘Pastorale’ Sonata flows beautifully. There is a wonderful elasticity in the phrasing that enhances the expressive content of the piece. It is impossible to think of the trills and ornaments in the E Major Sonata KK380 played better than they are here, and there is some gorgeous soft playing in the G Minor Sonata KK234. Some of the phrasing in the E Major Sonata sounds a little mannered although this is a minor quibble. Lipatti left great recordings of both the E Major and ‘Pastorale’ sonatas. Colli is not quite able to match these Olympian performances although his playing is very fine nonetheless.
The best part of this recording is the second set of sonatas, under the Live happily! chapter heading, in which Colli demonstrates his virtuoso credentials. His fingerwork is dazzling and the succession of runs, repeated notes, leaps and hand crossings are dispatched with fleet-fingered aplomb. Colli conjures up the Iberian influences brilliantly in the D Major Sonata KK492 while the F Major Sonata KK525 is an adrenaline rush. I have not heard the repeated notes in KK39 played better than this; Colli succeeds in keeping the textures clean and transparent while maintaining momentum. Horowitz left recordings of three of these sonatas. Colli matches him both in terms of the unfettered exuberance of his performance and virtuoso firepower.
In the third set of sonatas, Colli brings us into the world of the Baroque dance with stylish performances of the G Minor Sonata KK450 and D Major Sonata KK430. The former is dispatched with enormous energy and flair; the latter trips along merrily. The contrapuntal lines of the D Minor Sonata KK1 are artfully delineated with a silky touch. Colli’s playing is a little contrived in one or two places in KK1 but the performance works in its own terms.
The final set of sonatas all proceed at slower tempi and provide an opportunity to showcase Scarlatti’s more contemplative side. The Sonata in B Minor KK197 is a rapt, spellbinding piece of playing while the F Minor Sonata KK69 comes across as a highly poetic Romantic nocturne. The F Minor Sonata does not sound particularly Baroque but once again it works in its own terms. The A Major Sonata KK208 – which is marked Adagio rather than the more usual Andante – was a little slow for my taste although the ornamentation was highly inventive and played beautifully.
Federico Colli is clearly a highly innovative player. This is very much in evidence from this recording, which gives us an opportunity to view this repertoire from a fresh perspective. The downside of this is that the playing sounds a little mannered in one or two places but I was not particularly bothered by this. Overall, this is a superb recording. I confess to being bowled over by the second set of sonatas in particular.
Contents Chapter 1. The Power of Illusion
Sonata KK19 in F Minor [7:03]
Sonata KK380 in E Major [5:31]
Sonata KK9 in D Minor ‘Pastorale’ [4:36]
Sonata KK234 in G Minor [5:44] Chapter 2. Live Happily!
Sonata KK492 in D Major [3:58]
Sonata KK322 in A Major [3:13]
Sonata KK525 in F Major [2:14]
Sonata KK39 in A Major [2:33] Chapter 3. The Return to Order
Sonata KK396 in D Minor [3:15]
Sonata KK450 in G Minor [3:36]
Sonata KK430 in D Major [3:15]
Sonata KK1 in D Minor [2:24] Chapter 4. Enchantment and Prayer
Sonata KK197 in B Minor [6:18]
Sonata KK69 in F Major [4:34]
Sonata KK208 in A Major [6:11]
Sonata KK32 in D Minor [1:39]
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