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GRAMOPHONE ( 11 / 2018)
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Reviewer: Patrick Rucker

It is said that soon after Domenico Scarlatti’s arrival in Lisbon in November 1719, the King’s younger brother recommended a 16-year-old named Carlos de Seixas as a pupil, and that it was Seixas who drew Scarlatti’s attention to the music of the streets – the ‘tunes sung by carriers, muleteers and common people’, as he later described it – and its potential as an ingredient for art music. Subsequently it became a vitalising element, piquant and grounding, in the hundreds of brilliant keyboard sonatas by the composer whom Malcom Boyd called ‘the greatest of all harpsi-chordists’.

Those two strains of Scarlatti’s art, the vitality of assimilated folk elements and resplendent virtuosity, inform this first Scarlatti release by the French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau. Far from a chronological presentation and despite the numerical order in which they appear in the header, each of the 16 sonatas has been chosen for its intrinsic expressive qualities and structural variety. Thus the series begins with the straightforward Italianate lyricism of the adagio A major Sonata, Kk208, as though Rondeau wants to show us how the harpsichord is capable of making an exquisitely extended cantabile worthy of a great singer. Immediately following is the A minor Sonata, Kk175, where a succession of mercurial moods, from fury to exaltation, follow in breathtaking rapidity. Later we are stunned to stumble upon a scene in Kk213 of such loneliness and desolation that it can only evoke elemental grief. Further on, Kk460 summons the pageantry of a regal procession. And, yes, here too is a fresh run of Rondeau’s riveting performance of the D minor Sonata, Kk141, which has logged more than 360,000 views since it was posted on YouTube five years ago.

This is impassioned, eloquent Scarlatti, emanating directly from the heart, ordered and juxtaposed by an inspired artistic sensibility. Anyone in love with Scarlatti or with the sound of the harpsichord will not want to miss this. For those who’ve not yet heard Rondeau, either in concert or on record, I envy you the pleasure of discovery.

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