Naxos' ongoing series of the complete keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (1685 -- 1757) offers the opportunity to get to know these inexhaustible short works and to hear a variety of gifted pianists. The newest release in the series meets both these goals. The CD is the 13th in the series, bringing it to about the halfway point in Scarlatti's over 550 works for the keyboard. It features the young pianist Chu-Hang Huang playing a varied program of 16 Scarlatti sonatas, most of which I had not heard before. Huang began her piano studies at the age of 7 in her native China. In 2005, Huang won First Prize in the 2005 Clevland International Piano Competition, and in 2006 she was First Prize winner in the 2006 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Since that time, she has concertized widely. She has a promising career ahead of her. The CD was recorded in 2008 in Canada.
The 16 sonatas on this CD are a varied group, and Huang's performance sparkles. The program is weighted towards earlier works with 9 sonatas having numbers in the Kirkpatrick listing of under 200. Scarlatti's early sonatas tend to be virtuosic in character with flamboyant runs, shifting rhythms, wide intervals, and extensive passages of hand crossings. Huang performs with clarity and verve. The CD also includes several minor key works of a reflective character and some longer sonatas. Huang's playing was thoughtful andexpressive. Huang is sensitive to the quicksilver idiosyncratic character of Scarlatti's writing. She gives a good deal of attention to changes in dynamics, rhthym and tempo. I envied her smooth playing of running thirds, octaves, and sixths. Her ornamentation of Scarlatti's scores tends to be free and effective.
A highlight of Huang's performance is the sonata in D major, K. 491, a well-known work which appears in Ralph Kirkpatrick's popular two-volume edition of 60 Scarlatti sonatas. This is a large-scale sonata which opens with three ornamented notes in the right hand echoed immediately in the left hand. The music moves easily through a succession of sixths with octave accompaniments until it reaches a long, pregnant pause. It then proceeds with long smooth passages of running 16th notes working towards a conclusion in beautifully-played thirds. In the second part of the piece, Scarlatti varies his material but continues to emphasize repeated notes and rhythms, sudden pauses, and the runs in sixths and thirds. This is a grand sonata. Listening to Huang play the piece made me want to try to study and learn it myself.
Other works I enjoyed on this CD include the virtuosic sonata in E major, K. 28, with its extensive passages of hand crossing and irresistible passages of little filigree runs. This sonata also appears in the Kirkpatrick edition. The sonatas in F major, K. 205 and in D major, K. 534 are both lilting, flowing works. The sonata in e minor, K. 232, the longest piece included on this CD, is a slow, poignant and reflective work. Huang captured the pathos of the music and her performance held my attention throughout.
Huang's CD is an excellent addtion to the Naxos series. Listenders wanting to take the time to explore Scarlatti one CD at a time will enjoy this onging survey of Scarlatti on the piano.