D. SCARLATTI: Keyboard Sonatas, K. 236-265 / Christoph Ullrich, pno / Tacet 271
As an alternative to Michael Korstick’s fun and fabulous performances of the “best” of Scarlatto sonatas on CPO, another German pianist, Christoph Ullrich, is in the process of recording all 590 or whatever number they are on the Tacet label.
These recordings have gotten, and are getting, rave reviews from Jed Distler on Classics Today. I’m rather shocked because, for the most part, Distler has very good taste and knows better. These are the deadest, dullest, least interesting performances of Scarlatti I’ve ever heard in my life. Not only aren’t they are good as Korstick’s set, they don’t come within 100 miles of the set that Wanda Landowska recorded on the harpsichord in 1940. Or any of Carlo Grante’s recent recordings. I had to look Ullrich up online because I couldn’t believe that he was a professional pianist. He sounds like a second-year piano student. Every sonata is played at one volume level, no inflections, no emotion, and no continuity of phrasing. I take back the comment about the second-year piano student. He sounds like a MIDI.
These recordings are so awful that I don’t even think American classical radio stations will play them (but don’t hold me to that). Anyone who thinks these are great, or even good, performances of Scarlatti needs some psychiatric help. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but really, I can’t help feeling any other way.
Well, look at it this way. Tacet is a rather dinky classical label, so they wound up with a dinky pianist playing Scarlatti in a dinky manner, so it all ties in together. This guy makes Alicia de Larrocha sound like Annie Fischer. Landowska could play better than this at the age of 79, when she had arthritis in both hands and half the strength she had when she was in her 50s (no, she didn’t re-record Scarlatti at that age, but I have her playing Haydn and Bach in the late 1950s, and she was still Wanda Landowska).
In several U.S. cities, public libraries play classical music through speakers set up outside to discourage loiterers. Yes, this is a horrible thing to use classical music for, and I’ve complained about it in the past, but considering that Ullrich is now up to Vol. 7 of these sonatas, and (I think) has four more volumes to go, the libraries have enough ammunition here to discourage thousands of people from hanging out on their premises. Even I’D get up and leave, and I LIKE classical music!!!! (And Scarlatti would normally keep me there until the record was finished!)
But hey, if you think this is how Scarlatti should be played, more power to you!
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
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