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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp


That this is the fourth volume of Scarlatti sonatas by Pierre Hantaï reminds us that he is no newcomer to this magical composer. That the earlier releases were in 1993, 2005 and 2006 suggests for one thing that we can stop fretting about whether or not there is a complete cycle coming (30 more CDs needed for that!), but for another that he likes to get to know his sonatas well before recording them – a process further hinted at by the fact that in live recitals he tends to choose which ones to play only as he goes along.


The process has certainly been worth it. Playing a bright German-style harpsichord with quick decay but plenty of colour and depth, Hantaï shows what can be achieved by a virtuoso who commands perfect technical control in which nothing is rushed or scrambled, a touch at the keys from which every note speaks clearly, and an emotional eloquence in which melodies sing and a subtle strategy of spread chords, hesitations, accents, displacements and articulations leads your ear to the music’s important notes, harmonies and rhythms, even in the most challenging passages. What extra ornamentation there is brings variety rather than show, and the beauty of the package is that it all sounds perfectly natural, the sublime result of artistic mastery committed to the task of communicating Scarlatti’s ever-delightful genius.


As on previous volumes, there is a mixture here of the well known and less familiar. The former include the celebratory Kk133, rattling Kk457 and cherished Kk208, here played with an immense love and guile that never threatens to overload the spare framework of its melody and strummed accompaniment. The latter offer piled-up repetitions in Kk405, disorientating stop-starts in Kk201, lacelike delicacy in Kk279 and strange rhythmic fracturings in Kk45 – but then, with Scarlatti, there’s almost always something that can excite, surprise or beguile. In the hands of this top-level interpreter of his works, they never fail.

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