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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Who could complain that Pierre Hantaï is taking his time to roam among Scarlatti’s sonatas – 26 years after the appearance of his first Scarlatti disc for Astrée Auvidis (4/93), this (Vol 6 of the Mirare series) is still only the seventh – when by doing so he allows us to savour each one, to feel that each new disc is an individually curated gift to us? Perhaps only three of the 17 sonatas included here are at all widely known: Kk119, with its acrobatic leaps, almost like a circus act complete with ‘ta-das’ and ‘allez-oops’; the proud-gestured Kk6; and Kk18, with its frothing presto semiquavers. But naturally there are plenty of other gems to discover. The lilting dance measures, fizzing rockets and dazzling octaves of Kk43 – Scarlatti at his most brilliant – suggest some wild choreographic fantasy; Kk69 has a smoothly coordinated spider-like crawl similar to the better-known Kk87; the capricious Kk273 whirs gently like a mechanical toy before springing off into swirling scales, plunging arpeggios and then a harmonically dense gigue; and Kk487 opens with the massive, attention-grabbing chords and textural contrasts of an orchestral overture. There’s so much more – there always is in Scarlatti – but there simply isn’t room here to describe it all.

Hantaï never makes the mistake of tearing into these pieces and wrestling them. If the music itself seems to approach organised chaos in places, his playing is always controlled, seeking out lyricism and humanity, no matter how fast the notes fly. And when Scarlatti explicitly sings his soul, so does Hantaï, for instance in the tenderly spun affettuoso of Kk384. He can do all this because of a superb technique that puts him in command of all the virtuoso fireworks but also enables him to let every note speak eloquently with perfect placement and tone. It really is playing of the highest order. When Hantaï started recording Scarlatti in 1993 he tended to get overlooked in favour of the spectacularly virtuoso but harder-fingered Andreas Staier. But now, with every superb new release, the

Frenchman is laying further claim to a position as perhaps the best Scarlatti harpsichordist of all.

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