Classical 99.5 | Classical Radio Boston
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Debargue Unravels a Mystery with Scarlatti's Sonatas

Lucas Debargue
Xiomara Bender
Lucas Debargue

French pianist Lucas Debargue fell in love with Domenico Scarlatti’s shortest keyboard sonata at the age of ten – and now, nineteen years later, that sonata and 51 others comprise Debargue's newest album.

For Debargue, mastering Scarlatti's music was just one part of the challenge. Though much is known about Domenico’s father, Alessandro Scarlatti, very little is known about this prolific composer of keyboard sonatas (over 550). In fact, a handful of letters and his last will and testament are the only original documents that remain from his lifetime.

In his research Debargue found that musicologists have used the air of mystery surrounding Scarlatti to forward some theories about the composer’s life. Some wondered if Scarlatti was so humble, personally, that he just wanted his music to speak for itself. Others suggested that jealous contemporaries may have tried to wipe the slate clean, so that no future generations would ever think of him again. Debargue’s quest was to honor this long-gone composer properly.

Debargue, who won 4th place at the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015, discovered a complete edition of Scarlatti’s sonatas in a Paris music shop and couldn't help himself. He locked himself in a room for a week and played through all 11 volumes, which he says was about 37 hours of music. He found the pieces to be inspiring. In his liner notes, he writes that "each sonata celebrates the miracle of tonal harmony... the balance between formal rigour and unbridled invention almost automatically achieves a state of sheer perfection... this is achieved with a brevity and an efficacy that are altogether unique; within only a handful of notes we are plunged into a parallel universe that keeps on expanding. Time becomes space."

Listening to these four CDs, it's abundantly clear that Debargue is both charmed and intrigued by Scarlatti. He picks up on the playfulness of the music, selecting 52 sonatas for the collection (one for each week of the year, or, one for each card in a deck, as Scarlatti was an avid gambler). His crisp, delightful style of playing is somewhat derived from his reverence for harpsichordigst Scott Ross, whose recordings of Scarlatti's sonatas Debargue finds to be "without compare" and "definitive," as he writes. He has also chosen to record this album in a way that honors the straightforward nature of music written for harpsichord, without using the pedals on a modern piano, and paying particular attention to the amount of reverberation.

This album is a true celebration of Scarlatti's music. Debarque writes in the liner notes that he has chosen to "perform all the repeats as I was unwilling to deny myself this particular pleasure." You should not deny yourself this pleasure either.

Watch a trailer for the album:

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.

Laura Carlo is the Morning Program Host for CRB.