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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Six Organ Quintets: No. 1 [22'52]; No. 2 [22'31]; No. 3 [23'27]; No. 4 [26'03]; No. 5 [30'02]; No. 6 [33'18]
Paul Parsons, organ
Rasumovsky String Quartet
Rec. Bothamsall Parish Church, 30 Sept - 5 Oct 2003. DDD
GUILD GMCD 7280/1 [78'57 + 79'41]


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Padre Antonio Soler is best known for his astonishing Fandango for harpsichord and for the Six Concertos for two organs, of which several recordings have been made. The pieces featured on this recording are the only music I know of scored for string quartet and organ. They were discovered by the late American organist, Donald Joyce. They were possibly written for the son of the Spanish King Ferdinand VI, who was a student of Soler and for whom the concertos for two organs had certainly been composed.

Soler's style is a unique interpretation of the Galant world of composition, encompassing earlier models and Spanish folk song-related ideas. The forms of the quintets are very irregular; between three and six movements, with many of the movements subdivided into further small sections. The 6th quintet as an example consists of three movements, the first of which is divided into five smaller sections, but the finale of which is an unbroken 21 minute rondo with variations. The organ features in a variety of ways, seldom as a solo instrument in the sense of a concerto, nor as a continuo instrument, but as an equal member of the ensemble. The quality of the music is predictably variable but the concept is refreshingly different. This is the first recording.

The organ chosen is a beautiful sounding Goetze and Gwynn copy of a chamber organ by Thomas Parker dating from the mid 18th century. It may seem a strange choice but, as is pointed out in the booklet, such organs shared many similarities with Spanish instruments of the same period, most notably the soft, stringy principals and brighter upper-work. The extended bass compass is also essential. Parsons additionally makes use of a slightly ill-sounding regal when called for by Soler.

Given the effort to have playing scores created, the obvious enthusiasm by the performers to have the music recorded, and the planning and thought that has gone into the whole project, it is with some regret that I cannot recommend this recording. The main problem is one of tuning. Organ builder Martin Goetze informs me that he thinks the 'Parker' organ was tuned in Barnes 'Bach' temperament for the recording, and the contrast between the many pure thirds in the organ and the much wider thirds played by the quartet creates an uncomfortable incongruity from the outset. In addition, the Rasumovsky Quartet play on gut strings and with Classical bows, but don't convince me that they have enough experience in this area; intonation and tone quality are constantly compromised. It is possible to make beautiful sounds on gut strings too! The biographical note on the quartet acknowledges that playing such music in this manner is only one of their large variety of activities and the lack of specialisation is regrettably evident. While the recording quality is very fine, I would have preferred a slightly larger acoustic (the organ is mobile and was on loan from Leeds University for the recording) to give the sound more bloom, as would have been the case at the Royal Monastery at El Escorial where these pieces may have been originally performed. On the positive side, all the performances seem well paced, and Paul Parsons plays well throughout, especially as I understand he had to cope with pipes being re-tuned to play notes outwith the treble compass (top d# re-tuned to g and top c# to f, the 'Parker' organ going only to e) and having to add stop changes during pieces in order to play certain passages an octave lower.

A nice idea then, but not a wholly satisfactory result.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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