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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Sonatas for Harpsichord - Volume 13
Sonata No.60 in c minor [15:45]
Sonata in G without Rubio number (copied 1786) [5:53]
Sonata in G without Rubio number [2:01]
Sonata No.66 in C (1777) [19:40]
Sonata No.68 in E (1777) [20:53]
Sonata No.75 in F [7:22]
Sonata No.76 in F [6:16]
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)
rec. Concert Hall, Epsom College, Epsom, Surrey, England, 18-20 July 2006. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English and German
NAXOS 8.570292 [77:51]


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 is.) 

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?
Brian Wilson

See also Review by Glyn Pursglove




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