Alicia de Larrocha, piano
Vladimir Horowitz’s famous 1965 collection and this disc are proof that Scarlatti’s ingenious and idiosyncratic sonatas, written for harpsichord, translate brilliantly to the piano. Not that Horowitz and de Larrocha, 53, a Barcelona native, take the same approach. Where he attacked with characteristic vigor and dazzling precision, she succeeds equally (despite two of the smallest hands in the business) by caressingly coaxing forth all the warmth, charm and surprise the pieces contain. Scarlatti was a pretty fair keyboard player himself. Born in Naples in 1685, the same year as Bach and Handel, he once got into an informal competition with Handel in Rome in 1709. Handel was judged the better organist, but it was a draw on harpsichord. In another match, according to one observer, Scarlatti so outshone the Irish virtuoso Thomas Roseingrave that the latter seemed ready to cut his fingers off. As a composer, Scarlatti was as original as he was prolific. He wrote 555 sonatas, more than half of them in the six years before his death in 1757. Conventional overall, the sonatas abound with virtuoso turns, unusual harmonies and bold rhythms—all flavored with the folk essences of Spain and Portugal, where Scarlatti spent his later years.