Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples Italy October 26, 1685. His father was the famous and domineering 17th-century operatic composer Alessandro Scarlatti, who began directing the younger Scarlatti's career early on, helping him acquire appointments with various patrons. Little is known of his training. A harpsichord virtuoso, Scarlatti, in 1709, was employed by exiled queen of Poland, Maria Casimira, who was living in Rome at the time. While there, Scarlatti gained a considerable professional reputation.
Scarlatti's early compositions focused on operas, oratorios, and cantatas, all genres for which his father was known. During the period he met many performers and composers, including Corelli and Handel. He and Handel became friends, admiring each other's keyboard skills. Anecdotally, the two virtuosos were said to have competed against one another in the Baroque equivalent of a cutting contest in late 1708 or early1709. Legend has it that the two men split the prize with Handel taking the organ honors and Scarlatti bagging it at the harpsichord.
In 1720 Scarlatti moved to Lisbon to become master of the royal chapel provide keyboard lessons to the two children of King João V. One of them, the Infanta Maria Barbara would prove to be exceptionally talented and would eventually go on to become the Queen of Spain. After the Queen's marriage in 1729, Scarlatti joined her in Spain on where he remained in her service for the rest of his life. It was for Maria Barbara that the keyboardist composed the more than 500 keyboard sonatas upon which his reputation stands. All of these "sonatas" are single-movement works in a binary (two-part) form, preserved in two sets, each of 15 volumes.
Structurally, each follows a similar pattern, with an introduction, a central theme and a mode with modulation, repeats and coda. Despite their unity of design, the sonatas are astonishingly varied in mood and color.
To my knowledge, there has been only one complete set of sonatas recorded. This was recorded by Scott Ross on Harpsichord and released on Erato Records (229 2453 092) in 1991. The set comprises a whopping 34 discs available for the reasonable price of ca. $300.00 USD. Naxos began their survey of Scarlatti's keyboard output in 1998 and has since released six volumes, all performed on piano and by different artists (mirroring the label's noted Complete Liszt Piano Music series). Volume 6 was just released and offers a wealth of finely crafted and performed piano music.
This collection, performed by Russian Evgeny Zarafiants, falls somewhere between fellow Russian Scarlattists Vladimir Horowitz and Mikel Pletnev. Zarafiants plays precisely and accurately, reserving his romantic inclinations for the slow tempo and minor key sonatas. He does capture the entire tonal canvas of Scarlatti with exceptional performances highlighting the precise, bouncing counterpoint of the E major Sonata, K. 135 and the romanticized sustain of the D major Sonata, K. 478, the lengthiest piece on the disc, clocking in at 11 minutes. Zarafiants makes the F sharp major Sonata, K.318 sound downright balladic before building the stately Baroque architecture of the F major Sonata, K. 274.
The minor key sonatas on the disc are special. They include K. 19 in F minor, K. 67 in F sharp minor, and K. 247 in C sharp minor and all have a nocturnal temper, the latter being the most majestic. Mr. Zarafiants' performance is uniformly fine and deserves further releases of this music.
Sonata in E major, K. 135; Sonata in A major, K. 429; Sonata in D major, K. 478; Sonata in G major, K. 169; Sonata in G major, K. 259; Sonata in C major, K. 502; Sonata in F major, K. 419; Sonata in F minor, K. 19; Sonata in B flat major, K. 112; Sonata in E flat major, K. 123; Sonata in F major, K. 274; Sonata in A major, K. 405; Sonata in F sharp major, K. 318; Sonata in F sharp minor, K. 67; Sonata in C sharp minor, K. 247; Sonata in G major, K. 63.