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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Sonatas for Harpsichord, Vol. 10

Sonata in B flat (Rubio deest) [05:18]
Sonata in D flat (Rubio 88) [05:00]
Sonata in f sharp minor (Rubio 77) [08:04]
Sonata in f sharp minor (Rubio 78) [05:46]
Sonata in D (Rubio 37) [03:04]
Sonata in G (Rubio 64) [16:56]
Sonata in c minor (Rubio 126) [11:51]
Sonata in C (Rubio 61) [17:46]
Gilbert Rowland, harpsichord
Recorded in July 2002 in the Epsom College Concert Hall, Surrey, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.557137 [73:51]



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Antonio Soler - or Antonio Francisco Javier José Soler Ramos, as his full name is - has been connected with two of the most prestigious centres of musical activity in Spain. He received his first musical education in the monastery of Montserrat, where he entered the choir school at the age of six. He studied organ and composition and seems to have been a brilliant student.

In the late 1750s he was appointed chapel master at the Escorial, the monastery founded by Philip II in 1563, which in Soler's time was an internationally renowned centre of culture, regularly visited by the members of the Spanish court.

Music making at the Escorial was rich and varied. Not only religious music, but also theatre and chamber music was performed. It was Soler's duty to compose music in all these genres.

Soler was also very interested in science and musical history, and he wrote books on several subjects.

He must have had a very busy life. Apart from composing and performing music he had to fulfil his duties as a monk, and he had to teach his patron, Infante don Gabriel, the keyboard.

Today Soler is mainly known for his keyboard sonatas, none of which have survived in his own handwriting, and only 27 of which were printed in his lifetime.

As a keyboard player Soler was a pupil of Domenico Scarlatti. His own sonatas show the influence of his teacher. Like many of Scarlatti's sonatas some of Soler's form pairs. A large number have only one movement, but at later stages in his life Soler composed also sonatas in two (Rubio 126), three (Rubio 64) or four (Rubio 61) movements. This shows the influence of the rococo and the emerging classical period. Another sign of this influence is the use of uncommon keys like D flat. And whereas most of Scarlatti's sonatas are written in fast tempi Soler frequently prescribes tempi like 'andante', 'andantino' or uses the characterisation of 'cantabile'.

Gilbert Rowland has recorded many of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas in the past, so it was only a logical step to start a complete recording of the sonatas of Antonio Soler. The present disc is the 10th in the series. This is the first and only volume of the series I have heard, and having listened to it I don't think I like to hear the rest.

This indicates that I am quite disappointed by this recording. I wouldn’t advise anyone to listen to this kind of sonatas for an hour at a stretch, no matter who is playing them. But Gilbert Rowland doesn’t make it any easier to do so: listening to this recording was a very tiring experience.

First of all I don't like the harpsichord played here: an unspecified Flemish instrument. This is a strange choice for Spanish music anyway, but the sound of the instrument is pretty sharp and obtrusive. In particular listening with headphones is painful to the ears.

But it is also the playing of Gilbert Rowland which is rather painful. His relentless hammering on the harpsichord, with very little differentiation and variation, and no breathing spaces or holding back at key points in the musical structure makes listening to this recording an unpleasant adventure. The "drive, brilliance and technical virtuosity" - as Rowland in his liner notes describes the character of the Sonata in D flat (Rubio 88) - is underlined at the cost of the musical ideas Soler's sonatas contain. And although he characterises the first movement (Pastorale) of the Sonata in G (Rubio 64) as "a piece of considerable charm", I haven't heard much charm in his performance. And some uncommon harmonies aren't given the attention they require.

I am eagerly awaiting a complete recording of Soler's sonatas on the appropriate instruments, meaning first and foremost a Spanish harpsichord. But some could also be played on other keyboard instruments, like the clavichord or the organ, and even the 'modern' fortepiano.

Johan van Veen

see also review by Aline Nassif who was more impressed



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