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Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Sonatas for Harpsichord: Volume 11

Sonata in C major [3:43]
Sonata No.22 in D flat major [11:33]
Sonata No.23 in D flat major [7:16]
Sonata No.128 in E minor [6:02]
Sonata No.45 in C major, ‘Por la Princesa de Asturias’ [5:16]
Sonata No.51 in C major [3:27]
Sonata No.65 in A minor (1777) [15:49]
Sonata No.127 in D major [3:31]
Sonata No.62 in B flat major (1782) [21:38]
Gilbert Rowlands (harpsichord)
rec. 12-14 July, Epsom College Concert Hall, Surrey
NAXOS 8.557640 [78:14]
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Nine more sonatas by the astonishingly prolific Soler – who also wrote, whilst carrying out his monastic duties at the Escorial, at least six concertos for two organs, nine masses, sixty psalm settings, thirteen settings of the Magnificat and much, much else. He also found time to write a treatise on harmony (the Llave de la Modulacion), to develop something of a reputation as a mathematician and a theorist of monetary exchange and to achieve some standing as an authority on the design of organs! One is not surprised to learn, from an obituary written by a fellow monk, that Soler normally slept no more than four hours a night.

Given all this, it is not surprising that Soler’s output is a little uneven. I haven’t heard all ten previous volumes of Gilbert Rowland’s Naxos series, but on some of the ones I have heard this was very marked . In volume 11 the general level is pretty high, most of the sonatas, in their different ways, showing Soler at something like his best.

In many of the sonatas – like much in the music of Scarlatti (with whom Soler studied) and Boccherini – one can hear the influence of the syncopated dance rhythms of Spain. This is true, for example, of the second subject in the C major sonata which opens the present programme (and which has no Rubio number, not being included in Father Samuel Rubio’s great edition) and of sonatas 45 and 51. There are places, too, where some of Soler’s melodic materials sound as though they may be derived from Spanish folk music, as in the first two movements of Sonata 65.

Yet, for all his ‘Spanishness’, Soler can sometimes surprise one by writing in idioms which one wouldn’t readily think of as Spanish. So, for example, the Rondo, marked ‘andantino con moto’, which opens the four-movement Sonata 62 sounds more like a piece of Viennese classicism, like Haydn or Mozart, for example, than anything else – if one heard it played on the fortepiano the resemblance would, I suspect, seem even greater. This is really only to say that Soler is a good deal more various than he has sometimes been thought to be, that he is far more than merely an imitator of Scarlatti. His sonatas in several movements – this CD includes no.65 in three movements, as well as Sonata 62 – attempt things quite different from the work of his early master, for all the many echoes of Scarlatti.

Gilbert Rowlands has a sure-fingered understanding of Soler’s idioms and a clear-sighted sense of the differences between the sonatas (evident in his useful booklet notes as well as in his performances). I enjoy his playing, except perhaps in some of the louder climaxes, though this may be the fault of a not especially attractive sounding instrument – described as a "Concert Flemish harpsichord from the Paris Workshop, prepared and tuned by Andrew Wooderson". But this is a relatively small blemish on a generally interesting and enjoyable recital.

Glyn Pursglove



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