Sandro Russo’s Scarlatti Recreated, released Sep 24, 2013 on the Musical Concepts label, is an ambitious and fanciful undertaking in that the ‘reinvented’ repertoire is highly original. In fact, on the album there are four world-premiere recordings referring to the essential Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). A contemporary of Händel, Scarlatti’s baroque writing had been largely forgotten, gaining new popularity in the mid-twentieth century, as the liner notes of the recording suggest. In this recording, Russo deals with extraordinarily difficult material, solving their intricacies with his own, masterly understanding of the genre. He manages to adapt with a most elegant reverence to the different composers stylistic commentaries, without ever losing his own sensitive and personal touch.
Based in New York, Italian-born Sandro Russo has been lauded as an exceptionally poetic pianist with verve for the newfound joy of transcription. In 2005, he met Vladimir Leyetchkiss at the International Conference of the Rachmaninoff Society in London, whose transcription of Rachmaninov’s waltz and romance from his 2nd suite for two pianos Op. 17 caught Russo’s interest. Leyetchkiss approached Russo to play some of the movements of the 2nd suite transcription in recital. Leyetchkiss had originally intended this oeuvre for Cyprien Katsaris, who never ended up playing it; Russo premiered both the Waltz and Romance during the 2008/2009-concert season with great critical success and enthusiastic approval from Leyetchkiss.
About Scarlatti Recreated, Russo remarks, “The idea of ‘recreating’ Scarlatti originated primarily from the basic fact that his work wasn’t conceived for the modern piano but rather for the harpsichord.” Scarlatti’s most significant musical contribution is his oeuvre of 555 keyboard sonatas written for harpsichord, chronologically catalogued by the most comprehensive numbering system of his work, which was created by Ralph Kirkpatrick in 1953. With a strong sense for the historic component of pianism, Sandro Russo has enjoyed playing historic instruments and performing programs that position the pianistic experience into a solid historical context.
Obviously there was something in Scarlatti’s intimate and harmonious melodies that inspired a historic response, one which bears as much witness to the styles of the times in which the various transcriptions were written – virtuosic, romantic, and expressive – as it does to the subtleties of Scarlatti’s music itself.
An inherent ingredient in a transcription is its complexity. Based on the source material, the transcription evokes the original but often tries to go beyond it, adding a personal commentary. This often results in adding harmonic voices or melodic embellishments, translating into intricate technical demands on the pianist. Russo’s disc features transcriptions of Scarlatti’s material by pianists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Mid-nineteenth century transcriptionist Carl Czerny paid homage to Scarlatti along with other composers while he worked at the center of Viennese pianism. Piano virtuoso Carl Tausig and Louis Brassin, also best known for his Wagner transcriptions, added their own virtuosic flair to Scarlatti’s material, and included in their interpretations a fuller-ranged and polyphonic orchestral configuration of the original music. At the turn of the century, Enrique Granados set out to transcribe a set of Scarlatti Sonatas in a highly romanticized fashion of the time. Famed virtuoso and composer of the mid-twentieth century, Ignaz Friedman, was renowned for his Bach and Scarlatti transcriptions in addition to his Chopin performances; the Polish pianist brought a lot of Chopin’s harmonic influences into Scarlatti’s sound world. The compositions of the eccentric Charles-Valentin Alkan, a colleague of Chopin and part of the same French bohemian circle of the mid-nineteenth century, is known to test the limits of even the most virtuoso piano playing. He included references in one of his manuscripts to “Alla D. Scarlatti.” Slightly more interested in a historistic view of the twentieth century are Jean Françaix, Rayomond Leventhal, and Michael Habermann, each of whom approach Scarlatti with their personal historistic perspective.
Russo’s own revelations of fascinating details are projected with great sovereignty in Scarlatti Recreated, perhaps most brilliantly expressed in his performance of Marc-André Hamelin’s EtudeVI: Esercizio per Pianoforte (Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti). Marc-Andrè Hamelin is renowned for presenting the works of lesser-known composers (including Alkan’s), and works with pieces that many deem difficult to handle, remaining unfazed by their tremendous intricacies. The contemporary pianist/composer and arranger makes, in his own words, “a purely affectionate tribute” to Scarlatti, as mentioned in the liner notes.
Russo manages to keep the listener engaged throughout the different ‘quotations’ of Scarlatti’s underlying impact on the music’s clarity and finesse, which aids the listener in grasping a deeper look into the curious process of musical composition, as well.
The recording is a poignant example of Russo’s thoughtful and meaningful programs, executed with great imagination and musical dexterity.