A Cornucopia of Scarlatti from Lucas Debargue

Swimming in Heaven: Lucas Debargue's Scarlatti

A Cornucopia of Scarlatti from Lucas Debargue

It is a measure of Lucas Debargue's devotion to the music of Domenico Scarlatti - and a measure of his individuality of thought - that he released full four discs stocked to the brim with some of the most enlightened Scarlatti playing for decades. While some might think of the likes of interventionalists such as Pletnev or Pogorelich when thinking of Scarlatti on the piano, Debargue's purity of intent reminds me of the most famous of piano recordings of Scarlatti from much earlier in the history of recording, those by Marcelle Meyer (a pupil of Cortot and Riccardo Viñes, and the favoured pianist of Les Six: we will quite literally hear from her later)

Lucas Debargue won the Moscow Critics' Association Prize as well as Fourth Place in the 15th Tchaikovsky International Competition. His releases so far have focused on stimulating juxtapositions: Schubert and Szymanowski, Bach/Beethoven/Medtner; plus a Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time. His affinities are wide and yet uniformly result in excellence. He told me in conversation  once that the reason for the choice of Sony for his record company (he had multiple offers after Moscow) was the freedom of repertoire they allowed him. At the time of his competition success, there were rumours that he was self-taught: in fact a primary influence was his teacher, Raina Shereshevskaya, and we can see their close bond in the film Lucas Debargue: To Music (link below).

Just a word about numbering of Scarlatti Sonatas. When we're talking about Scarlatti Sonatas, it is fairly standard to refer to Kirkpatrick numbers (usually shortened to "Kk" to distinguish it from the "K" numbers used for Mozart); you might also though come across "L" numbers a different catalogue, Longo.

So, let's compare (because we can) Debargue and Meyer in the B minor Sonata, Kk 27 (which begins at 12"35 in the Meyer video):

Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata in B minor, Kk 27

To my ear it's clear we're in the presence of two great Scarlatti players; and how wonderful to hear one of them in state-of-the-art Sony sound. Debargue is less willing to bend with the music than Meyer in this sonata; and yet how convincing both ways are.

We can hear them again in the Sonata in D minor, Kk 32, where the differences in interpretation are clear, Meyer forthright, Debargue markedly more reflective: but both are transfixing accounts of this lovely gem of a Sonata. The Mayer, stately and serene, begins at 18"20 in her video, and here's Debargue:

Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata in D minor, Kk 32

It is differences of interpretation such as this that make the music enthusiast's life such a joy. The ability to experience two top class musicians from different eras in direct juxtaposition can only enhance our appreciation of Scarlatti's music.

Debargue is clear about the importance of Scarlatti to him: he described the music as his "musical nest," saying it is the "root of any musical thought in me". When he played all 555 in a short period of time from the Kenneth Gilbert edition, he described it as "swimming in Heaven". Perhaps this holds an important reason why this three-disc set is so exceptional: for Debargue, this music is far more than a recital opener, a token nod to earlier musics before heading to the meat. Scarlatti creates individual worlds - 555 of them, to be precise, one world per sonata - yet each sounds like Scarlatti and nobody else.

The choices of just how to pair these Sonatas is vast, and Debargue discovered a penchant for pairing early and late pieces that share some parallels. On average, it took Debargue an hour to record each Sonata.

The opportunity to envelop oneself in Scarlatti with Debargue as one's guide is not to be missed. Worth noting that although the EMI Réferences LP of Meyer that is shown in the YouTube video is difficult to obtain, there is a 17 (seventeen!) CD set of Mayer on Amazon going for the absolutely bonkers price £15.68 that has to be some sort of super-super-bargain - the link is below also. That's about 92p per disc. Also included in the links is one to that film about Debargue, "To Music," a near-two hour award-winning film by Martin Mirabel and a great watch that includes bonuses of an Improvisation on Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and an excerpt from Medtner's F minor Sonata, Op. 5.