Peter Katin Plays Scarlatti – CR3502


“Claudio’s decision to investigate its archive of musical gems. Here is another, the original outstanding recording quality enhanced by modern technology and enabling Katin’s profound artistry to be experienced anew through this thoroughly recommendable recording”

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My decision to write some notes for this recording was partly made after reflection on two comments, one made, alas, by a colleague at a dinner party, and the other made by Ralph Kirkpatrick in his superb study of Scarlatti. Let me deal with the first comment – that all Scarlatti sonatas tend to sound alike. I would have thought that the days were long past when a pianist started a recital with a group of sonatas more out of a sense of duty or a need to “warm up” rather than from a burning wish to present some of the most inventive keyboard writing of all times. It is true, of course, that an examination of the complete sonatas – over 550 – will show many similarities, which would prevent the performer from choosing a group at random, but even so I found such variety while putting together the fourteen sonatas recorded here that the resulting embarrassment of riches made my task far from easy and I can only say that I had to resort to a process of ruthless elimination in order to meet the timing requirements (which means that I have another fourteen sonatas at the ready). I do not feel that the space available here, and the awareness of Kirkpatrick’s masterly book, would warrant a potted biographical account, but I do want to point out as well as I can the array of moods, contrasts, and the enormously varied technical demands that have made this recording one of the most fascinating and rewarding things I have done.

This collection starts with a fanfare in 3/8 time, and to me there is a sense of occasion throughout this sonata, which alternates between the trumpet-like passages and longer, less imperious phrases; at times the music becomes more like a dance in which the left hand constantly crosses the right – probably a link between the two moods. The next, like the first in D major, takes an amazingly economical “slow march” figure and expands into a seven-minute procession, grand and solemn, pausing now and then for a question-and-answer motif between the two hands; Scarlatti’s famous crunching discords in the left hand at the forte passages have, I think, to be interpreted in a different way to what is effective in a harpsichord performance, and I think I have solved this by spreading them abruptly. The third sonata is in D minor, a fiery and almost relentless surge of sound, stopping nowhere, throwing off strands of contrapuntal writing in its headlong rush, then it is all over almost before the listener can adjust to the onslaught. After that there could be nothing more calming than the serene architecture of the A major sonata, long and soothing phrases progressing unhurriedly over a simple bass line; yet another contrast comes with the sonata in A minor, which I see as a mysterious tip-toeing up and down through chromaticisms and off-beats, each section concluding abruptly like the slamming of a door. The F minor is slow and intense, the two hands sometimes copying each other, sometimes producing two intertwining melodies; I am reminded of the Bach E flat minor prelude from the “48”. The other sonata in F minor bears a starkly rhythmic figure throughout – energetic yet cheerless, this has the storminess of Winter, from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. From there we go to a scherzo-like piece in E flat, light, buoyant, charming, contrasting with the C minor sonata in which clashes between right and left hands give way to inspired downward chromatic progressions hardly associated with the “prettiness” with which Scarlatti’s music has been too often labelled. The G major that follows is a calm and dignified minuet, simple and courteous with an almost total absence of chords, while the next sonata in the same key is composed largely of phrases in thirds and sixths that surely resemble peals of bells, chiming or clanging according to the mood. The last three sonatas are in C major, and to start with we have the longest one of this recording – approximately eight minutes – which must have posed a problem for the performer as it is marked “per Cembalo espresso” and is, I believe, one of the most ambitious works for the instrument. It has the charming quality of a musical box, but it is much more expansive than that and the writing extends to the limits of the keyboard of the time. Perhaps almost hypnotic in character, I found that the best contrast was a better-known sonata in the same key, reminiscent of the fanfare which opens the first sonata on this recording, but much more distant in feeling, with greater emphasis on the dance-like quality; a further contrast is in the length, as this is the shortest piece here. For the finale I have chosen another fanfare, in a different time and with a very positive initial statement, followed by passages of sheer energy, mostly in the left hand accompanied by staccato “jabs” in the right, each section concluding with a prolonged acrobatic figuration which very effectively brings this selection to an end in a web of jubilant sound.

So much for my personal view of these sonatas, and I must turn to the second comment alluded to earlier: On the piano, gradations of piano and forte tend to take on a subjective quality. This very valid statement was made by Kirkpatrick himself in the paragraph dealing with the performance of Scarlatti sonatas. I would say that there is no right and wrong way of playing Scarlatti on an instrument for which he did not write, but if one is going to use a piano, then it is essential to think very carefully about the effects obtainable on a modern instrument which must necessarily replace (and not imitate) those available on a harpsichord. The ability to produce a crescendo is virtually denied to the harpsichord player, but different levels of sound can be obtained from a harpsichord in a way that defies the pianist. Also, the “length” of a note played on a piano is far greater than the same note played on a harpsichord, which doubtless leads to slower tempi in the more relaxed sonatas than the harpsichord could sustain, but also results in greater clarity when playing the faster pieces on a harpsichord. And, of course, the very way in which the sound is produced in each instrument is surely bound to discourage comparison. The harpsichord will give a far cleaner-cut attack at all dynamic levels than the piano, where the attack virtually disappears at anything like a pianissimo – with the soft pedal in use the most delicious veiled effects can be achieved. But then the harpsichord is capable of other sounds equally telling, one of the most interesting being that of the lute stop, giving a muted staccato that the piano could never imitate. And so on! I feel that with this music the piano’s own range of tonal effects should be brought into use without comparison with the harpsichord, and having decided on that, the kaleidoscopic patterns of tone colours have to be examined in considerable detail if a Scarlatti sonata is going to sound natural in what is after all a far cry from the original instrument. So I have found that a certain staccato touch, an unusual pedalling, or an individual interpretation of trills and passing notes very necessary to attain the character of this or that sonata as I see it; in fact I think that were I to play the ornamentation according to the rules prevailing at the time I could not have realised my own interpretation. But then, if I understand what Kirkpatrick said, interpretation has to have an element of subjectivity otherwise one is in danger of thwarting imagination. I would rather say that, with so many effects at one’s disposal, one must choose the range to express the character of each piece, not precluding freedom but regarding the utmost discipline. The preparation of this recording has opened up a whole world for me and I have not found a single dull moment in discovering and learning the sonatas.


Born in London in 1930 from Lithuanian parents Peter Katin, showed his musical talent already at the age of 4. He attended Whitgift School in Croydon and was admitted to the senior department of the Royal Academy of Music when he was 12, four years before the official age of entry. He studied there under Harold Craxton. His debut at the Wigmore Hall on December 13, 1948 together with Alfredo Campoli where his programme included works by Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Chopin, helped launch his international career. Katin was greatly influenced by his meetings with Clifford Curzon, Claudio Arrau and Myra Hess, who gave him much valuable advice and which combined with his own natural talents established him as a top international recording artists producing many orchestral as well as solo recordings with some of the biggest record labels including Decca.

Katin’s great poetic sensibility is captured here in Claudio Record’s first CD release, which also marked the beginning of a new future for Peter after a long absence in Canada. He returned in 1984 and in Sept 1985 recorded these 14 Scarlatti Sonatas, which inspired him to resume his recording career until his recent death in 2015. This recording has been re-mastered in HD and now re-lives the originals vitality, exposing the creativeness of his genius!!

MusicWeb International – Review – April 2016

This is the second CD to come my way this year celebrating the considerable artistry and versatility of pianist Peter Katin (1930-2015). Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing his recordings of some very well known and not so well known Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov works on Decca Eloquence. They were originally set down in 1958 and 1959 and issued on LP but never saw the light of day again until this year.

Now this new Claudio disc appears. I am impressed not only with Katin’s sensitive and robust readings but also, judging by his own lucid and learned notes, his in-depth knowledge of the Scarlatti sonatas. He reflects on the allowances that need to be made for the difference in sound created by the use of a modern pianoforte rather than a harpsichord. Katin also fires a shot at those observers who think all Scarlatti’s sonatas sound alike. He writes that although there are many similarities, “… even so I found such variety while putting together the fourteen sonatas recorded here that the resulting embarrassment of riches made my task far from easy …”

We hear fourteen of the 550 sonatas Scarlatti composed in Madrid from his arrival there in 1733 until his death. Each succeeds in captivating the ear and holding the attention. Of these sonatas, I would mention a few that impressed me particularly. The striking and solemn D major K490, the serene and calming A major K208, the delight and buoyancy of the E flat K193, the appealing G major K539 with its evocations of chiming and clanging bells and the ambitious and C major K356 that has “the charming quality of a music box”.

Claudio re-mastered the 1985 recordings using a Nagra IV-S reel-to-reel machine direct to Nagra VII 192/24 HD from original masters. This recording is also available as DVD-Audio HD disc CR3502-6.

This makes for a very worthy addition to the Scarlatti discography with warm and excellent high definition transfers.

Ian Lace

Hi-Fi Sound Review

Peter Katin is acknowledged as one of the finest pianists of our time. Scarlatti’s demand for complete keyboard technique is fully met and these are performances of great character and understanding.

“The sound of the analogue masters on this CD is excellent…Lovers of Scarlatti need have no fear that this piano rendition of these sonatas vulgarises the music, in fact, quite the reverse.”
Jonathan Kettle