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Scarlatti: Sonatas - Marchionda

Scarlatti: Sonatas - Marchionda

MDG Gold  903 1587-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas (arr. guitar)

Stephen Marchionda (guitar)


Iberian Temperament
From 1738 onward, the Italian Domenico Scarlatti, while living in Spain, composed more than five hundred sonatas for harpsichord that are flavored by Iberian temperament. That these works can also very well be performed on the modern guitar has been shown by the American guitarist and Spain resident Stephen Marchionda, who has now recorded these works for the first time on a Super Audio CD.

Rich Blend
Scarlatti wrote his sonatas mainly as practice pieces for his pupil Queen Maria Barbara. In many of these works he combined his early form of writing with the influences of the flamenco and other Spanish dance forms to shape his very own and personal style. It is thus startling how Scarlatti incorporated folk elements into his sonatas that were written for aristocratic settings - integrating and imitating everyday sound experiences.

International Travels
As the sixth child of an Italian family of musicians, Domenico Scarlatti spent the Spanish phase of his life at the royal residences in Madrid and Seville. Three hundred years later, Stephen Marchionda caught the Scarlatti bug while living in Granada. This classical guitarist with both Italian and American passports was actually tracing the footsteps of the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla when a harpsichord sonata by Scarlatti caught his attention. Marchionda became so fascinated by these works that he decided to arrange some of them for the guitar.

Swapping Strings
The guitar is almost unrivalled in its status as the instrument of Spain. Scarlatti’s works embody the temperament of the Iberian Peninsula with an unusual intensity. When combining these two elements with the highly virtuosic and colorful playing of Stephen Marchionda, we discover a totally different side to these wonderful works which, mostly, have not been recorded on the guitar before and which, however, sound as though they were meant to be performed on this instrument.

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Review by John Miller - May 24, 2012

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was prepared for his musical career at a very early age, utlimately becoming known Europe-wide as a great harpsichordist, at least the equal of Handel. A Neopolitan, he spent most of this career in the Iberian Peninsula, first in the employ of King John V at Lisbon (1719-1729) and then he followed Maria Barbara, one of his most gifted Royal pupils to the Spanish court in Seville and Madrid after her marriage to the Spanish Infanta. He stayed as a much valued member of the Royal Household until his death in 1757.

Scarlatti began to write harpsichord pieces at Lisbon, and some 555 pieces have come down to us. Scarlatti called them Essercizi ("Exercises"), and when published they were widely distributed and sensational. Nowadays they are called sonatas, and were forerunners of the instrumental sonatas of the Classical movement. Scarlatti's were in a single movement, with contrasting episodes, some or all of which were repeated and/or modified. They are often played nowadays on the piano.

The harpsichord is a plucked instrument, so it is not surprising that some transcriptions for guitar have been made. However, after 10 years of his engagement with the composer, Stephen Marchionda has made a more systematic approach of rendering some of these sonatas into guitar-friendly versions. He was attracted by the many very obvious guitar imitations which Scarlatti put into his works, and also by the wide variety of Spanish references which they contain. Ralph Kirkpatrick, an expert on Scarlatti and collator of his music (The Kk numbers,) observed that there is hardly an aspect of Spanish life, of Spanish popular music and dance, that has not found itself a place in the microcosm that Scarlatti created with this sonatas.

Marchionda, a prominent, prize-winning exponent of the Spanish guitar, tells us in the disc's booklet that he strove to maintain the qualities that makes these sonatas special. Particular attention was given to his voicing, dissonances, parallel 4th and 5ths in the basses and extensive ornamentation. In the end, there were very few notes that he was forced to drop in the sonatas which he chose for transcription.

And the result is magnificent. The guitar moves us into a different world, away from the formality and glitter of the Baroque style into an timeless, intensely expressive and human one. This comes about because of the ability of the guitar to change its dynamics much more subtly than the harpsichord, and because the fingers pluck the strings directly, so subtle phrasing is much more natural. Stylish though they are, the transcriptions become innately more Romantic, even when played with a good Baroque style. In one sense, Scarlatti would have approved, for he himself struggled to get beyond Baroque style and taught his pupils how to break its rules.

There are 10 sonatas on this disc, only one of which (Kk 213 in D minor) is also on Kirkpatrick's Harpsichord selection (Domenico Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas - Kirkpatrick). Kirkpatrick's style is somewhat academic, and he does not play many (or any) repeats, add different ornament to repeats or change tone colour with the available registrations on his instrument. By comparison to the somewhat fatiguing brightness of the harpsichord, Marchionda takes every repeat opportunity, varying both tone colour and ornamentation, so Kirkpatrick's 3'44" becomes 7'58". The result is a deeply touching pathos, with lighter-limned interludes, with a sound that is warm and wide-ranging.

Put simply, these sonatas are simply a joy to listen to, when played with such flair and deft expressive means. Each one has a distinct character, especially those which contain obvious Spanish content. Added to this is a near perfect recording of Marchionda's 6 string Antonio Montero guitar, with realism usually found only at a recital. The recording venue is frequently used for guitar concerts, and with its airy but intimate acoustic, the music seems to be played in one's own listening room. Marchionda does make quite a few string whistles, more than his once-teacher Julian Bream produces, but these are not distracting, and rather add to the sense of performer-presence. Not being set up for the 2+2+2 system, I used my usual 5.1 system, and even so I have no hesitation in giving the disc top marks for sonics.

A totally desirable disc for any guitar-lover's collection, and one which I think would be ideal for beginners in Scarlatti's music.

Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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