This is the thirteenth and last CD in Gilbert Rowland’s
ten-year survey of Soler’s complete Sonatas for Harpsichord.
Earlier recordings in the series have received mixed reviews
here on Musicweb and elsewhere. Patrick Waller’s (hereafter
PCW) fairly recent review
of Volume 12 summarises the situation and contains links
to several of the earlier volumes in the series.
Soler’s clerical duties at the palace-monastery
of Escorial, where he was maestro
di capella, involved his writing organ and choral works.
Of his 150 keyboard sonatas, some are scored for two organs
and certain of these have received an occasional outing on record;
if you can find a copy of Soler’s Six Concertos for Two Organs
– Peter Hurford and Thomas Trotter recorded on the Epistle and
Gospel Organs of Salamanca Cathedral on (deleted) Decca 436
115-2 – snap it up. Otherwise, there is just one track surviving
from this CD, on a mid-price 2-CD set entitled The Art of
Peter Hurford (Decca 475 6828).
Soler recordings tend not to stay in the catalogue
for long: I had intended at the end of the review to recommend
a bargain-price recording by Maggie Cole on harpsichord and fortepiano
as a general introduction to his keyboard works but find that
this, too, is deleted (Virgin 5621992 if you can find it).
Another recommendation has also been deleted: the
Koopman/Mathot recording of the Organ Concertos, coupled
with Scott Ross’s performance of a selection of the harpsichord
sonatas on Warner Ultima 3984 27005-2. With luck, this may
return soon as an Apex 2-CD set in the same bargain-price range.
Nowadays Soler is best known for his solo harpsichord
sonatas, mostly composed for the Infante Don Gabriel. It is
probably true to say that if you like the harpsichord works
of his teacher, Domenico Scarlatti, you will probably react
favourably to his pupil Soler. Gilbert Rowland’s own informative
notes downgrade the Scarlatti connection to ‘reputed’ and ‘probable’
but he accepts the influence of the older composer.
Though both Scarlatti and Soler composed sonatas
for amateur aristocratic players, neither made any concession
to the abilities of their pupils. Both wrote music which sounds,
and is, difficult to play and well worth hearing. A selection
of scores of these sonatas is available at icking;
unfortunately, none of those on the present CD is represented
but you will find a good introduction to Soler’s music here.
On the first volume in the series, Rowland employed
a copy of a Rubio harpsichord, an instrument which some reviewers
found rather clattery. Other instruments employed for later
volumes have also come in for a good degree of criticism, as
have the recordings of the earlier volumes. On the present
recording he employs a two-manual instrument by Andrew Wooderson,
modelled on a 1750 instrument by Goermans, first used in volumes
7-9 and again in volume 12. I agree with PCW’s assessment of
instrument and recording: neither the instrument nor the recording
struck me as in any way too harsh, too close, or too resonant.
Given that some of Soler’s music sounds guitar-inspired
in places – for example, the first of the Sonatas in G on this
disc – it may be that some (but not me) will find the Wooderson/Goermans
instrument too smooth-sounding. Other pieces here sound much
more at home on this instrument – Sonata 66, for example, the
opening slow movement of which Rowland plays with “florid ...
Mozartian charm”, to quote his own note, or Sonata 68, with
its use of Alberti bass.
As PCW notes with regard to Volume 12, Rowland
plays the music straight; like him, I normally approve of this
approach and I do so here. The alternative approach, as I noted
recently in reviewing Ton Koopman’s baroque organ recital Puer
Nobis Nascitur, sometimes leads to extravagant over-interpretation
and distortion of the music. I yield to no-one in my admiration
for Koopman’s ability to bring baroque music to life, but not
when he pulls it about, as he does with some of the pieces on
Puer Nobis Nascitur. (Not unexpectedly, however, I note
that another reviewer has awarded this CD a full five stars,
which proves yet again what an inexact science music- and drama-reviewing
In comparing Koopman’s performances of Daquin’s
Noëls on Puer Nobis with those of Christopher Herrick,
which I recently reviewed on a Helios reissue (CDH55319)
I much preferred Herrick’s straight, but by no means inexpressive
performances. I find Rowland’s performances of Soler on a par
with Herrick’s of Daquin.
Though this is the final volume in the series,
the quality of the music is as high as before. Like the Biblical
wedding guests at Cana, I was pleasantly surprised
that some of the best vintage has been left till last. There
are, inevitably, some pot-boilers in any output as large as
Soler’s – or Scarlatti’s – but there is the same variety here
as in earlier volumes. As Rowland writes in the notes, the
first work, the c-minor Op.60 Sonata, is a splendid piece, opening
with a slow movement as heartfelt and poignant as anything Soler
– or, I would add, the eighteenth century as a whole – produced.
Rowland’s notes are the equal of his performances;
they live up to the best Naxos traditions in being useful,
informative and readable.
Two of the works on this CD, Sonatas 75 and 76,
both in F, seem to form a contrasting pair – another link with
Scarlatti, several of whose own keyboard sonatas Ralph Kirkpatrick
believed to have been paired in a similar fashion. The works
of Soler have been lovingly edited by the late Father Samuel
Rubio and it is his numbering that is followed here. Rowland
employs Frederick Marvin’s edition of the first three works
and the Rubio edition of the last four.
Two of the shorter sonatas here fall outside the
scope of the Rubio edition: Rowland’s notes indicate that one
of these sonatas comes from a manuscript known to Rubio and
he expresses surprise that it does not feature in his edition.
Both seem fully consonant with the Soler sound, at least to
my ears, and the writing of short paired pieces seems to have
been part of Soler’s practice.
I very much hope that some part of the Universal
Classics and Jazz empire will reissue the Hurford/Trotter CD
of the Organ Concertos. (Perhaps Australian Eloquence
will oblige?) If it’s just the harpsichord works that you’re
after, the present CD will do as well as any. Naxos have an
excellent track-record for not deleting their CDs after the
first flush – and Soler’s music really is worth keeping in the
catalogue, especially in performances as good as these – but
perhaps you’d better get hold of at least one of these Gilbert
Rowland recordings while you can.
To the best of my knowledge there are no recordings
of any of Soler’s vocal and choral music. I hope that one of
the record companies will remedy this situation soon though,
given their tendency to delete rather than promote Soler, I
am not optimistic. Having completed the Sonatas, perhaps Naxos will now oblige with some
of his masses and/or motets?
See also Review
by Glyn Pursglove