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[Off The Record]
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Mikhail Pletnev
SCARLATTI: KEYBOARD SONATAS
(VIRGIN)

In a preface to his first published volume of keyboard sonatas, Domenico Scarlatti advised his audience to "show yourself more human than critical, and then your Pleasure will increase." Itís great advice for any music lover (and even better for critics), but the composer neednít have been so modest: for all their brevity, these works are as sophisticated as they are charming. Theyíre diverse as well: dance rhythms and bird calls are accompanied by daring harmony and counterpoint that put one in mind of his more famous contemporary, J.S. Bach.

Those insisting on historically correct performances will want to hear these works on the harpsichord. But pianists have always been attracted to Scarlatti, Russians especially. Vladimir Horowitzís recording from the 1960s still stands as the pre-eminent modern set, but Mikhail Pletnevís collection of 31 sonatas, recorded in 1994, is almost as good. Both capture the emotional range of Scarlattiís composition, from infectious joy to quiet melancholy. More important, both make full use of the pianoís expressive depth rather than trying to imitate the drier sound of the harpsichord. Pletnevís playing, though, is more romantic, more flexible than Horowitzís: tempos and dynamics seem to vary almost from measure to measure. This is a double-edged sword: most of the time his playing illustrates Scarlattiís astonishing inventiveness, but occasionally he loses the musical flow altogether.

Still, thatís a minor qualm in the face of great playing of wonderful music. Horowitzís may be the most consistent set, but Pletnevís collection is almost double the size of the older masterís, and there are few duplications between them. Best of all, Virgin has reissued Pletnevís two-CD set for the cost of one mid-price CD, so you can own both collections and, as the composer advises, "Live Happily."

BY DAVID WEININGER

Issue Date: November 22 - 29, 2001

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