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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)

Sonatas for Harpsichord Vol. 11
Sonata in C (Unnumbered) [3:43]
Sonata No. 22 in D-flat [11:33]
Sonata No. 23 in D-flat [7:16]
Sonata No. 128 in E minor [6:02]
Sonata No. 45 in C [5:16]
Sonata No. 51 in C [3:27]
Sonata No. 65 in A minor [15:49]
Sonata No. 127 in D [3:31]
Sonata No. 62 in B-flat [21:38]
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)
rec. Epsom College Concert Hall, Surrey, 12-14 July 2004
NAXOS 8.557640 [78:14]



Gilbert Rowland continues the epic series of recordings of the harpsichord works of Soler, now with a very-recently released 12th volume. The biographical details have been covered before by other reviewers of this series such as those for volume 10 (see review), so I'll focus more on the music for this review. 

The recording quality is comparable to the other very well-recorded harpsichord Naxos discs, intimate, yet with enough ambient inclusion to give a sense of space. The pleasant sound is similar to that of the Naxos discs of the harpsichord works of Carlos de Seixas, a series recorded by Debora Halasz.

Many of the sonatas of Soler, evidently, were intended to be performed in pairs, acting as a sort of binary sonata. Sonatas 22 and 23 work as one of these contiguous pairs. This first sonata is a bit more dainty and coy, with 23 being the more outgoingly forthright in the presentation of its material.

Sonata 128 develops two contrasting themes more or less in rondo form, the first being similar to a Courante, which is explored before the more fleet-footed second in duple meter takes over. Over the course of the piece the sombre dignity of the first is coloured by the sunnier second theme, as the second theme is rendered more sober.

There are two other highlights on the disc: two larger-scale later sonatas, the earliest being the Sonata No. 65 in A minor. There were six three-movement sonatas from 1777, and according to the liner-notes, this is the only one in a minor key; being so it is by no means grim. There are snatches of folk music here in this first dignified triple-meter opening movement and the middle Allegro that follows, which is a greatly enjoyable movement that, in spite of Soler's overarching style, at times has a whiff of Mozart about it. For fans of intricate counterpoint, we have the fugal last section, marked Intento con movimento contrario, beautifully rendered by Rowland. The piece keeps a wonderful sense of repose, without things getting too crowded.

The other multiple-movement sonata is my favourite piece on the disc, the gregarious No. 62 in B-flat major, composed shortly before Soler's death. The opening movement is a Rondo. The liner-notes mention Mozart in regard to the sound of this movement, and I agree. It has a sort of almost smilingly sly crowd-pleasing quality about it. The following Allegretto expresivo is, though it begins in the relative minor, a joyous five minutes that keeps a courtly sense of decorum  - a quite enjoyable listen.The third-movement minuet is marked a 'revolving minuet' in which the themes presented rotate in changing orders, like the members of a confused volleyball team. Ending the sonata is the Allegro spiritoso, which continues the effervescent tone that the previous movements set. Delightful.

Overall, yet another beautifully-recorded disc, with some lovely pieces finally seeing the light of day. This is the first disc of the series that I've heard, but now that it's been heard, I doubt it will be the last I have in my collection.

David Blomenberg

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove 


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