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Fanfare Magazine: 39:3 (11-22/2016) 
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Berlin Classics  

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Reviewer: Scott Noriega


The current recital hits upon an interest notion—that Scarlatti’s music existed in not one era of music, the High Baroque, but crossed well into another, the Classical. And though the composer shared the same birth year as two other truly Baroque composers, at least by our standards—Bach and Handel, along with Scarlatti were all born in 1685, and all three of them died in the same decade: Bach in 1750, Scarlatti in 1757, and Handel in 1759—it was Scarlatti who seemed to embrace many more of the newer developing musical aspects of his time. For one, his music tends to be less overtly polyphonic than either Bach’s or Handel’s. For another, his sonatas often embrace the same formal designs as the sonata-form movements that were then taking Europe by storm.

But Huangci, the young American pianist (b. 1990) who studied with Eleanor Sokoloff and Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia before moving to Hanover, Germany to study with Arie Vardi at the College of Music, Drama and Media in 2007, takes this idea one step forward: “What if I was able to present the works in a way that would show people clearly how Scarlatti formed the perfect bridge between the Baroque and Classical periods? Using the sonatas, I decided to create Baroquian Suites and Classical Sonatas, congruent with forms from each respective era.” In keeping with the Baroque Suite, she looked for sonatas with certain dance characteristics that could be grouped together following a basic pattern: Prelude (Toccata)-Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue, along with other movements which she labeled as “Intermezzo Movements” acting as either bourrees, minuets, passepieds, or gavottes. Each sonata was united by the same keynote—so either D or d, etc. For the so-called Classical Sonatas she looked for works that showed a later composer’s thinking, in regards “expression, harmonic modulation, and particularly in compositional structure (exposition, development, recapitulation).” She also found it imperative to find connections between sonatas, so that she could more easily create a sense of narrative the way a composer of that latter era would. Less burdened by finding works with the same keynote, here her Classical Sonatas, like multi-movement sonatas of that age, are comprised of movements with closely related keys: Her Sonata in A Minor, for example, consists of three sonatas: ones in A Minor, F Major, and A Minor. What a simple, yet fascinating idea!

But what of Huangci’s playing, not just her reasoning behind this recital? I can honestly say that even if one had multiple versions of all of the sonatas contained within this program—as do I—some of the playing on these discs is so phenomenal as to warrant this release’s inclusion into one’s collection. Her renditions of both the G-Major Sonata, K 454, and the D-Major Sonata, K 29, are both filled with marvelous details of phrasing, of coloration (especially muted tones in regards repetitions), and of staggering virtuosity—the scales in the latter are played so quickly, yet so cleanly and crisply, and with such a beautifully rounded sound, that the overall effect is just magical. The former’s treacherous staggered broken chords are delivered with the same clarity of attack—here producing a bubbly and light effect throughout. But some of the slower movements too shine, ones in which the pianist can’t rely on her commanding virtuosity: Her A-Major Sonata, K 208, (the second movement of her “Sonata in D Major”) for example, is wonderfully simple, yet so well colored, so well balanced, and so well paced, that the greatest result is achieved; especially so here, as the slower sonata is placed between the two faster, more ornate D-Major Sonatas. Throughout, Huangci is always aware of the Affekt of the work without ever crossing the line into sentimentality. Her repetitions are often beautifully, tastefully and uniquely ornamented with numerous roulades; but rather than getting in the way of the music, as so often these overly decorated passages feel to this listener, here they seem a natural outgrowth of the music.

Recorded in excellent and clear sound in Bremen, Germany (at the Sendesaal) on a Yamaha CFX Grand Piano, there is little to not recommend this recording. From the interesting program, the excellent liner notes—by both the pianist and Ulf Brenken—the crisp and clear recorded sound, to the fabulous playing, all I can say is grab this recording and devour it! Any recording that can get one to listen to their favorite music anew is a rare thing. And I can promise you this: You will never listen to Scarlatti in quite the same way again.



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