Jean Rondeau - Scarlatti Sonatas
Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas (15 sonatas). Jean Rondeau, harpsichord. Erato, (p) 2018; Time: 81:00; Rating: (5/5).
One of the things I have been enjoying with Jean Rondeau’s solo recordings is the choices he makes for instruments. This recording of fifteen sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (who famously wrote in excess of five hundred) features a colorful instrument, made by Knif and Pelto.
Rondeau has chosen a combination of sonatas representing an exotic diversity of moods. Certainly some of Scarlatti’s best hits are represented, such as K 141, K 460, and K 175. There are enough of the faster pieces to highlight Rondeau’s excellent technique; but in the slower pieces, such as the opening A major sonata, K 208, he shows another side of his technique in his ability to communicate the simple opening in a very human way, avoiding the sometimes mechanical feeling some performances convey.
The same sensitivity is heard in the D minor sonata, K 213 once the second voice enters. The sustaining power of his instrument helps make his chosen tempo work. I prefer Rondeau’s interpretation for this sonata to Scott Ross’s, which was recorded in a much drier acoustic, with a faster tempo. The very different performance by Pierre Hantaï is also an interesting one (too performed on a very satisfying instrument, with a similar sustaining power to Rondeau’s instrument), and while Hantaï pushes the tempo, making it work, Rondeau’s interpretation is quite convincing as well.
There’s a playfulness Rondeau projects onto the opening of the F major sonata, K 6. Once we compare it to Ross’s, the Rondeau is far more musically satisfying.
The one track you won’t find in the complete recordings of Scarlatti is the ninth track, an “interlude” which Rondeau offers as an ear cleanser. It’s thirty seconds of something far removed from the sound world of Scarlatti. I am not sure musically it has any staying power, but it remarkably does conjure up something that could clean the ears. I am not sure why it’s really there, but thankfully it can be programmed-out. I suspect it’s Rondeau being playful and telling us that listening to all of these in one-sitting is ill-advised.
There’s more to Rondeau’s recordings than his strong ability in choosing interesting harpsichords. The fourth track, which is also featured in the preview video for the album, the concitato D minor sonata, K 141, is so well conceived through Rondeau’s fingers. He applies rubato in all the right ways, making for an interpretation that I suspect could or would change depending on his mood. It’s that flexibility, those pauses, the high precision of his playing, and the overall vision for the piece that reveals to me just how gifted a musician Jean Rondeau is.
An outstanding album, perhaps his best yet.