Italian jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi uses a very liberal interpretation of the allegro notation when interpreting the tempi of several of the sonatas on Enrico Pieranunzi Plays Domenico Scarlatti. This is evident right off the bat with the opening Sonata in E Major, K. 531. Allegro is defined as "fast and bright." Okay: well, jack that "fast and bright" up to the amphetamine pace of "very fast and lively" (Vivacissimo) or "extremely fast" (Prestissimo) and that tempo description might approximate how fast Pieranunzi is playing. The speed is one thing. The other is the precision and accuracy with which he is playing at tempo. Hearing the E Major sonata performed so fast is like riding a roller coaster: at first jarring, then bracing, then exhilarating, when Pieranunzi's precise attack is realized.
Pieranunzi presents his Scarlatti three ways: as the sonata followed by improvisation; the sonata preceded by improvisation; and as the sonata alone. This makes for keen drama. The opening E Major sonata is a high-wire act full of good news. When Pieranunzi begins to improvise after presenting the sonata, he weaves his variations tightly into the fabric of piece, creating a seamless work. That is thrilling to listen to, but does not compare to the next selection, the Sonata in C Major, K. 159, where Pieranunzi begins with his improvisation, stealthily hinting at the harmonics of the piece before launching headfirst into the sonata (at quite a clip, similar to Ivo Pogorelich's fast pace). Pieranunzi carefully avoids the "jazzification" of the sonatas, choosing to color within the Baroque lines.
Fast and furious is not the only way Pieranunzi plays his Scarlatti. "Impro K208/sonata in A Major K. 208," (sonata marked adagio e cantabile) is played almost largo with a pianissimo dynamic. Pieranunzi strikes upper register notes so lightly that they sound ghostly. The reading with improvisation is an ice statue, existing only in the moment. Pieranunzi's straight Scarlatti (Sonatas in D Major K. 18, E-flat Major K. 51, and F minor K. 239) is provocative and well played. It is obvious that Pieranunzi has spent much time with Scarlatti as theses sonatas show.
Of the High Baroque composers, Scarlatti may be the most friendly and accessible. He is more comparable to his contemporary Georg Frederich Handel than his other contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach (all three sharing the same birth year of 1685). His 555 keyboard sonatas are a high water mark in music history. Pieranunzi's performances and improvisations are respectful and thought provoking. His approach to Scarlatti lends more to classical scholarship than jazz, but improvisation remains improvisation, be Scarlatti the improviser or Charlie Parker. Pieranunzi indeed creates something new and fresh out of this well traveled terrain. Hopefully that it never becomes rote.
Personnel: Enrico Pieranunz: piano.