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SCARLATTI- SIXTEEN LATE SONATAS Colin Tilney (harpsichord)
Sonatas K.406/7; 398/9, 454/5, 443/4, 518/9, 536/7, 538/9 & 370/1

Harpsichord and piano (usually modern concert grand piano) vie for public favour, and there is no cause to minimise the subtlety of colour and articulation that the finest pianists can bring to the appreciation of these imperishable little masterpieces. My favourite on piano is Pletnev, whose 2-CD selection has been reissued at a reduced price (Virgin: 5619612) - listen to a sample, irresistible!

For the harpsichord, we have moved far from the colourful accounts of them by Puyana or a Malcolm. Doubts about the tuppence-coloured approach came for me first at the Wigmore Hall, when Ralph Kirkpatrick introduced his pairing discoveries, which have since become the standard K numbering. But more than that innovation, those of us privileged to hear him then recall the austerity of approach - no change of registration for repeats - and how he concentrated our attention upon the wonders of the music, not upon his playing of it.

Colin Tilney, six years my junior, lived through all this and is a respected scholar and performer of authentic early keyboard instruments. So here we are offered sixteen late sonatas, in their Kirkpatrick pairs, played on a 1993 instrument based upon 18 C Florentine single-manual models. It was made by John Phillips, harpsichord technician and session producer of this recorded collection, and author of the notes, with their thoroughly convincing justification of the instrument chosen by Tilney.

Dorian takes their title for the album, Ladders to Heaven, from the inexorably climbing musical line of K418, 'making us wonder if it can really go that high'. The performances, recorded in California over three days in July 2000, when Tilney was around 67, are reliable and persuasive. Whilst I can enjoy a little more agogic accentuation - an important part of the harpsichordist's armamentarium to compensate for for the lack of dynamic accentuation of individual notes possible on clavichord and piano - I am very happy with these intepretations, and the disc is a welcome addition to the very extensive Scarlatti discography.

Peter Grahame Woolf


© Peter Grahame Woolf