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Early Music

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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Sonata No. 86 in D major
Sonata No. 84 in D major
Sonata No. 72 in F minor
Sonata No. 132 in B flat major
Sonata No. 119 in B flat major
Sonata No. 24 in D minor
Sonata No. 25 in D minor
Sonata No. 12 in G major ‘De La Codorniz’ (The Quail)
Sonata No. 13 in G major
Sonata No. 14 in G major
Sonata No. 99 in C major Op. 8, No.3 (1783): Andantino; Minuets I and II; Rondo pastoril (Allegretto); Allegro
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)
Recorded 5-7 July, 2000 in Epsom College Concert Hall, Surrey. DDD
Sonatas for Harpsichord, Volume 9
NAXOS 8.555032 [72:41]


Naxos have now progressed to volume nine of Soler’s sonatas for harpsichord in what has been a generally well received survey. Presented on this release is a generous selection of eleven works which include the substantial four movement sonata No.99.

Catalonian composer Padre Antonio Soler took holy orders to become a monk at the Escorial monastery, near Madrid and became a pupil of master keyboard composer Domenico Scarlatti. Soler may not be as highly regarded as his teacher in many circles, however much of the skill and creativity has undoubtedly rubbed-off. Like his teacher Scarlatti many of these sonatas are characterised for their Spanish flavour of Flamenco song, energetic dance and guitar-like strumming.

Soler wrote much sacred music but he is chiefly remembered for his over 150 keyboard sonatas the majority of which were composed for the harpsichord. Soler’s sonatas, as seen on this release, are generally presented in a single movement although a few of them can be found in several movements. We are told in the excellent booklet notes by harpsichord soloist Gilbert Rowland that researchers now consider it was customary to perform many of the short single movement sonatas in pairs.

Arguably Soler’s sonatas for harpsichord are more conventional and have slightly less character than those of Scarlatti but on this release soloist Gilbert Rowland proficiently displays countless episodes of flair imagination and many surprises.

Gilbert Rowland gives a fine performance making light work of both the fiendishly difficult and flamboyant sonatas 13 and 14 and the technical demands of the sonata 119 with its organ-like qualities. The machine-like drive and vigour necessary in sonata 72 and the repetitive and rapid main theme of the sonata No. 12, which sounds like a cross between the nursery rhythm ‘Three Blind Mice’ and Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March‘, present little difficulty for the soloist owing to his superb dexterity and control. Rowland can play with sensitivity and refinement as heard in the tenderly melodic and imaginative sonata 24, displaying character and unequivocal communication in the Scarlatti-like theme in the inventive sonata 25.

The modern two manual instrument built in 1998 by Wooderson, after Goermans of Paris (1750) did sound slightly sharp initially until my hearing tuned into the textures. However the harpsichord has a more than acceptable sound with an agreeable tone and well-tuned but would have benefited from a slightly warmer acoustic than that provided in the Epsom College Concert Hall. Thankfully there are no intrusive sounds from the modern instruments mechanism; unlike on many recordings that I have recently encountered.

I am familiar with an alternative digital versions of the complete output of Soler from Bob van Asperen on the Astrée label. Although the set is a fine achievement both for van Asperen and Astrée I have reservations over the sound quality and the documentation is poor, therefore this Naxos version is my first choice.

Many discs of harpsichord works do not always make for sustained listening but with this Naxos release the enjoyment was certainly enduring. A really fine performance from Gilbert Rowland who was an inspired choice by Naxos for this cycle of Soler sonatas.

Michael Cookson



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