Eugenio Della Chiara and Alberto Chines were waiting for the bus on a cold evening in Milan, when the idea to play Scarlatti on guitar and piano came up. Della Chiara, a DECCA artist since 2018, has recently recorded rare guitar transcriptions by Haydn and Mozart, and fosters long-term, extensive collaborations with contemporary composers; Chines, is an acclaimed pianist with a list of prizes in his resume and a load of classified talents. Our readers might recall the latter from his Sunday Mixtape, which brought to our headphones an ear-opening experience. They share a certain elegant, youthful intellectuality, and a passion for early music; their newly born Due per Scarlatti, is an adventurous project and a surprising experiment in chamber music.
Of the hundreds of keyboard sonatas Domenico Scarlatti composed in the late Baroque era, Della Chiara and Chines attentively selected a dozen, grouping them in two cycles. They alternate playing these sonatas, each on his instrument, in a tandem act of hybrid between solo and chamber music.
Neither the guitar nor the piano are the instrument for which these works were originally composed. But the interesting virtue of this setting, is that it creates an acoustic impression, surprising in its resemblance to the sound of a clavichord or a harpsichord, for which these sonatas were originally written; indeed, these early versions of the modern piano are, in essence, plucked instruments with a keyboard.
Della Chiara and Chines join voices at the end of each cycle to play an original composition, commissioned for the duo and inspired by the unmistakable musical language of Scarlatti. Upon listening to their meticulous chamber music making, I set to write down a few questions for Alberto Chines.
Scarlatti’s personality is complex: his music is many-sided, full of contrasting moods and different influences. His distinctive “Spanish vibe” truly shines on guitar, while his exuberant fast figuration are extremely effective on the modern piano. When we had the idea to play together, we immediately thought about Scarlatti.
How did you approach the challenge of selecting twelve sonatas from the hundreds Scarlatti composed?
We wanted to have two sets of six sonatas, and to close each set with a contemporary composition. The first step was to find sonatas ideal for expressing the natural differences between our instruments as well as our individual musicianship. We chose a majority of graceful and melancholic sonatas for Eugenio (who has a strong background of Italian bel canto) and other sonatas of a more sparkling, dance-oriented nature for myself. Then we organised the two sets by tonalities and moods. Important to mention, that Eugenio plays all the sonatas in the original key, in order to avoid colour alterations. The result was a first set of more energetic sonatas, followed by the delicate and refined piece, Domenico Fragments, by Galante; and a second set of deep and expressive sonatas, followed by the muscular, propulsive and sometimes harsh composition, Scarlattiana, by Sciortino.
The structure of your program inevitably invites a comparison between the way you play Scarlatti’s music on the piano, and the way Della Chiara plays it on the guitar. Did you address this potential notion during rehearsals? Did you try, for example, to match certain aspects of your individual interpretations?
Of course! When we prepared the premiere in November (Spazio Teatro 89, Milan) we spent a lot of time working on details, playing for each other our sonatas, trying to find a good balance as well as new ideas. For instance, I was very inspired by Eugenio’s natural instincts with regards to phrasing and dynamics, and maybe my experience with early music was helpful for him on the rhythmical and ornamentation aspects of the music. Nevertheless, we enjoy the various interpretations this music invites, and are interested in offering two different views of the Scarlatti phenomena. Contrasts are beautiful!
As Francesco Tristano once said in an interview for this magazine, a good program should resemble a DJ set, taking the listener on a journey. Your program seem to follow this set of mind; almost like a playlist, inviting us to delve into the musical development of a particular story. In your case, the story, or the musical journey, ends with contemporary music. What can you tell us about the two works commissioned especially for this project?
A program says much about the personality of a musician, his interests, his ideas. The importance of a well-balanced and interesting program is extreme, I might even say it is as crucial as the playing itself. I am lucky that my last teacher, Davide Cabassi, had set me a perfect example for this type of work. Eugenio, for his own, is very attracted to anti-conventional choices, avoiding all the clichés of the guitar repertoire. When we crafted this program we took much care in choosing the right position for each sonata, to make it work as best as possible. Asking two accomplished composers, such as Galante and Sciortino to write a piece inspired by Scarlatti was for us the perfect way to demonstrate the relevance of Scarlatti’s music even today, so long after it was written. In fact, the two works (very different in style and structure) explore some important sides of Scarlatti’s artistic personality. Galante chose to deepen the structural aspect, isolating patterns and motifs from famous sonatas and developing them into a set of short pieces in different moods. Sciortino composed a spectacular and rock-solid piece which contains only one clear reference to Scarlatti, and mostly recreates in a very contemporary and personal way the typical gestures (repetitions, arpeggios, frenetic progressions etc.) of Scarlatti’s music.
Both pieces show a profound understanding of Scarlatti’s language and inner spirit, and we love how the different approaches of Galante and Sciortino reveals the complexity of such an interesting personality.
June 2 – Mantova (IT) – Mantova Chamber Music Festival
July 16 – Pesaro (IT) – MU.N Festival