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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Keyboard Sonatas

Sonata No. 89 in F [4:08]
Sonata No. 54 in d minor [5:51]
Sonata No. 88 in D-flat [4:57]
Sonata No. 71 in a minor [4:07]
Sonata No. 1 in D-flat [7:05]
Sonata No. 47 in g minor [4:54]
Sonata No. 87 in g minor [6:42]
Sonata No. 84 in D [3:09]
Sonata No. 3 in c-sharp minor [5:45]
Sonata No. 90 in F-sharp [4:32]
Sonata No. 77 in F-sharp minor [10:06]
Sonata No. 81 in the dorian mode [5:37]
Elena Riu, piano
Recorded in the Wathen Hall, St. Paulís School, London on 29-30 March 2002 DDD
ENSAYO ENY-CD 9818 [66:38]


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Antonio Soler was perhaps one of Domenico Scarlattiís most gifted and later famous students. Soler, who took holy orders in the middle of his life to enable him to dedicate all of his time to the creation and performance of music, was one of the most important composers of the Spanish Baroque. Highly favored by the Infante Don Gabriel, son of King Carlos III, Soler was a tireless worker who was reported to have only slept four hours each day in order to allow himself more time to compose. The prolific Padre left behind hundreds of works. There are multiple Magnificats, masses, psalm settings, and Officia defunctorum in addition to the famous quintets, and more than one hundred solo sonatas for the harpsichord.

This sampling of a dozen of the keyboard sonatas gives strong evidence of the tremendous influence that Scarlatti had over his pupil. However, these are far more than mere imitations, and are delightful in their melodic invention and harmonic color. They also belie Solerís own dazzling keyboard technique. These are works of considerable demands on the performer, rife with rapid cross-hand passages and intricate scale work. The dance like rhythms, particularly in slower sonatas such as no. 87 would prove to be models upon which Josef Haydn would in part base his own keyboard works.

Purists might squawk at the performance of these works on the modern grand, but Soler was known to have been familiar with the early forte-piano, and some of the published editions of his sonatas indicate that either harpsichord or piano are acceptable. To these ears, they work splendidly as piano pieces, and the more modern instrument is capable of bringing Solerís colorful harmonies and intricate contrapuntal textures to the fore through its ability to vary color, attack and dynamics to a greater degree than the rather monochromatic harpsichord.

Elena Riu is a pianist with a complete command of her instrument, yet she is not a virtuoso for its own sake. She is the servant of the music, and clearly has an affinity for the intricacies of Solerís musical language. Her playing is elegant and extremely clean, and her choices for tempi are always just right. One never feels rushed when listening, and although some of the music is quite fast indeed, the listener is never left gasping for breath. She has a wonderful cantabile and is able to make the music dance and sing at the same time. She is possessed of a rich palette of colors and chooses her musical brushes with both care and taste.

The rich and reverberant acoustic in which these performances were captured is lovely to experience. There is just the right amount of resonance in this recording and the microphones are placed just right in order to capture both the power and articulation of the piano as well to give the sound a warm bloom.

Program notes in three languages are thorough, although I would have liked more discussion of the music recorded on the disc than I got. The typo, which dated an eighteenth century musical treatise as having been written in 1972, was a bit laughable, but this occurs only in the English portion of the booklet. Although the cover photo of Ms. Riu is attractive enough, I am not drawn to this disc for the beauty of its cover art. It is indeed rather mundane, and the fact that a biography of the performer is missing is pretty inexcusable.

This is a nice alternative to harpsichord performances of this music, and is a nice add-on to the collections of those who enjoy hearing Murray Periaha or Andras Schiff play baroque works on the modern grand. Lovely music splendidly played. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton


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