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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Sonatas for Harpsichord: Volume 12

Sonata in C [5:20]
Sonata No.130 in G minor [6:28]
Sonata No. 121 in C [3:17]
Sonata No. 63 in F [18:15]
Sonata No. 67 in D [16:57]
Sonata No. 125 in C minor [3:57]
Sonata No. 44 in C [6:05]
Sonata No. 107 in F [4:50]
Sonata No. 79 in F# [12:36]
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)
rec. Epsom College Concert Hall, Surrey, 18-20 July 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557937 [77:55]


Including this issue, Glaswegian Gilbert Rowland's projected complete series of the Catalan monk Antonio Soler's keyboard sonatas has covered about 125 out of the total of 150. Thus I would presume that there are about three more discs to come. Critical reviews that I have seen on MusicWeb (see links below) and elsewhere have been mixed. Most problematically, the recorded sound has not been to all tastes but Rowland too has come in for some criticism (see reviews of volume 6 by Peter Grahame Woolf and volume 10 by Johann van Veen).

I started collecting this series at Volume 6 and my superficial impression has been that the sound has improved as it has gone along. Direct comparisons of volumes 6 through 12 support that view but the matter is complicated by changes of instrument. The venue and recording producer/engineer (John Taylor) have remained constant. For volume 6 Rowland played an instrument made in 1981 by Robert Deegan after Pascal Taskin. The sound was unappealing and frankly cloudy. Matters improved in volume 7 with a switch to a French-style instrument made by Andrew Wooderson after Goermans. The tone was brighter but perspectives still not ideal. By the time volume 9 was reached, the overall sound quality was reasonable. For Volumes 10 and 11 a mellower Flemish instrument was used with pretty good results. In this volume Andrew Wooderson's instrument is back and the sound is the best yet for reasons I can only speculate on. Perhaps it is slightly more distantly recorded but, whether or not that is true, the overall effect seems natural and much cleaner than for the earlier issues. No information is given about pitch but, as one would expect, the instruments seem to have been tuned well below modern concert pitch.

With regard to Rowland's playing, I would tend to align myself more with Michael Cookson, David Billinge, Aline Nassif and Glyn Pursglove who have found much to enjoy. In many ways I think we are all saying something similar - Rowland plays the music rather straight - the difference is in how we react to that approach. In terms of technique his playing is consistently assured and he also contributes valuable notes in the booklets.

Having spent six months listening to all of Scarlatti's sonatas played on the harpsichord by Ross, I find it hard not to hear his influence much of the time. Soler's musical language makes no great advances from Scarlatti but he did move with the times in terms of structure by writing some multi-movement works. On this disc Nos. 63 and 67 have three movements and No. 79 has two, all the others are singletons. Rowland indicates in the booklet that recent research indicates that some of Soler sonatas were paired but this seems to have come too late to be accounted for in his series, and there are no obvious pairs here. Soler's works were catalogued by Rubio in the early twentieth century but it seems doubtful that the numbers mean a great deal. I wonder whether there is scope for someone to reconsider the situation rather as Kirkpatrick did for Scarlatti in the 1950s? Although I find these works consistently attractive, there seem to be few that have the superstar quality that imbues some of Scarlatti's sonatas. Of most interest on this disc is the sonata No. 63 which begins with a long-breathed movement marked Cantabile. The second movement is an Allegro and the finale marked Intento is a fugue. This is the first of a set of six sonatas thought to date from around 1777.

Given the relative lack of competition in most of the works and the bargain price it would be churlish not to recognise the value of this Naxos series. It is a pity that the sound is just being optimised towards the end but, at least from volume 7 onwards, sound quality should not be a major deterrent. Anyone interested in Soler, or who likes Scarlatti, should certainly try the series out. This volume has the best sound so far and would be a good place to start.

Patrick C Waller

Links to reviews of previous discs in the series:

Volume 6:
Volume 8:
Volume 9:
Volume 9:
Volume 10:
Volume 10:
Volume 11:


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