MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Buy through MusicWeb for £12 postage paid World-wide.


Musicweb Purchase button


Seixas and Soler - Harpsichord Sonatas
Carlos SEIXAS (1704 - 1742)
Sonata No. 19 in d minor [02:56]
Sonata No. 20 in d minor [03:22]
Sonata No. 23 in F [06:17]
Sonata No. 11 in A [09:42]
Sonata No. 6 in d minor [05:12]
Sonata No. 5 in d minor [05:24]
Sonata No. 25 in g minor [03:58]
Antonio SOLER (1729 - 1783)
Sonata in f sharp minor (R 90) [05:29]
Sonata in F (R 56) [04:37]
Sonata in d minor (R 117) [04:04]
Sonata in G (R 45) [04:21]
Sonata in D (R 15) [04:32]
Sonata in D flat major (R 88) [05:11]
Sonata in D (R 84) [03:43]
Richard Lester (harpsichord)
rec. 2004, Wistaria Lodge, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5836 [78:51]

Experience Classicsonline

Comparison (Soler): Maggie Cole (Virgin Classics VC 7 91172-2; 1989)

This disc brings together compositions by two of the most interesting composers of the Iberian peninsula. There is no connection between them: Soler was just 13 years old when Seixas died. Furthermore they were from different countries: Seixas from Portugal and Soler from Spain, and both never left their own country. But they have some things in common as we shall see.

José António Carlos de Seixas was born in 1704 in Coimbra as the son of Francisco Vaz, organist of the Cathedral. It is not known why he adopted the family name of Seixas. His father was his first teacher, and in 1718, when he died, Carlos succeeded him as organist of the Cathedral. He was just fourteen at the time, indicating that he was a child prodigy. Two years later he moved to Lisbon, where he became organist of the Santa Igreja Patriarcal, which position he held until the end of his life. In addition Seixas taught the harpsichord at the royal court in Lisbon. The contemporary chronicler Barbosa Machado reported that Seixas "came down with rhumatism, which became increasingly worse and turned into a malign fever". It led to his early death in 1742, just 38 years of age.

No autograph manuscripts have survived, probably due to the earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755. All of his keyboard works are known from copies from the second half of the 18th century. In total 95 sonatas are considered authentic compositions by Seixas, a further 19 have been ascribed to him. The fact that so many copies have come down to us bears witness to his high reputation. No less a person that Domenico Scarlatti was a great admirer of Seixas. When Prince António told Scarlatti that he should give Seixas keyboard lessons, he refused. As a Portuguese dictionary of 1760 reports: "no sooner had [Scarlatti] seen him [Seixas] put his hands on the harpsichord than, recognising the giant by his fingerwork, he said to him: 'It is you who should be giving me lessons', and meeting his Royal Highness said to him, 'Your Highness sent me to examine, but let me tell you that the man is one of the greatest masters I have ever heard'".

It is often stated that Seixas was influenced by Scarlatti. But Macario Santiago Kastner, an expert on Iberian keyboard music, has emphasized that this influence should not be overrated. Like Scarlatti Seixas makes use of the binary form, but this was used long before Scarlatti. Often single movements from Seixas' sonatas are considerably longer than Scarlatti's sonatas, and some sonatas are in two or three movements. In a number of sonatas Seixas adds a minuet as the last movement which shows the influence of the French style. Harmonically Seixas' sonatas are often daring and individualistic. Striking examples of his harmonic language can be found in the Sonata No 19 in d minor and the last movement (allegro assai) from the Sonata No 11 in A. Seixas' sonatas also contain influences from folkloristic music.

Antonio Soler is also a remarkable composer. At the age of six he entered the choir school at Montserrat which was then one of the best musical academies in Europe. Soler studied organ and composition and seems to have been a brilliant student. In the late 1750s he became chapel master at the Escorial, to the north-west of Madrid. In this capacity he wasn't only expected to perform and compose sacred music, but secular works as well. Soler became acquainted with Domenico Scarlatti, like Seixas, but unlike the Portuguese master he was receiving keyboard lessons from Scarlatti. He also was well aware of the newest fashions in musical style as his compositional output shows.

Soler even caused a fiery debate in musical circles with his treatise 'Llave de la modulación' which was published in 1762. In it Soler explained some rules permitting modulation from a fixed key to any other key, be it close or distant. In the controversy which followed the publication of this treatise conservatives imagined that music would sink into a kind of anarchy if apprentice composers followed Soler's advice. This debate reveals the shift in musical aesthetics, as the musicologist Albert Recasens explains: "Underlying this controversy is the confrontation between the old rationalistic aesthetic, which advocates that music is directed at reason, and the adherents of sensationalism, who accepted innovations in music so long as they provided auditory pleasure".

Soler's own music fits in with this new aesthetic ideal. The Fandango, nowadays by far his most popular piece, is a clear product of 'sensationalism'. It has puzzled modern musicologists who considered it rather inappropriate for a monk to create a piece like this, often characterised as 'sensual'. But this is the result of a misconception of the relationship between sacred and secular music in the 18th century. Composers didn't see a fundamental difference between them, and therefore it doesn't surprise that at the end of the manuscript Soler wrote: "laus Deo" (to the glory of God). Soler's sonatas contain many harmonic peculiarities and he liked to compose in remote keys like F sharp major and D flat major. Like Scarlatti and Seixas Soler makes use of the binary form. Some of his sonatas are also in two or three movements, but on this disc Richard Lester plays only single-movement sonatas.

The booklet indicates that this disc is a compilation suggesting two different discs devoted to each of the two composers have been released earlier. I haven't been able to find out whether that is indeed the case. It doesn't really matter, though: we should take this disc as it comes, and there is not much against presenting these two composers on one disc. As I have indicated above, with all the differences there are also a couple of things which link them together. Both composers are not rated enough: Seixas is not that well represented on disc, and fortunately most pieces played here are not featured on the few discs with Seixas' music which are available. It is a bit different in Soler's case: his complete keyboard works have been recorded by Bob van Asperen (Astrée) and selections from his sonatas are recorded by, for instance, Maggie Cole - the recording I used as comparison.

A specific issue in the interpretation of Iberian keyboard music is the choice of instrument. Apart from the harpsichord the clavichord and the organ were common keyboard instruments in Spain. Maggie Cole even uses the then new fortepiano to play some of Soler's sonatas. Richard Lester plays one instrument, a copy of a harpsichord by José Joachim Antunes, built in 1785 in Portugal. This instrument is part of the Finchcocks collection of musical instruments in Kent. This instrument has two pedals, an attempt to keep up with the fortepiano - which was doomed to fail. The presence of pedals provides the interpreter with the possibility to make crescendi. Richard Lester doesn't fail to make use of it, even in Seixas where it is indefensible for historical reasons. Seixas didn't know these possibilities, and his music doesn't need them. Even in Soler the use of crescendi is dubious.

This is not the only problem I have with the performances of both Seixas's and Soler's sonatas. Lester's virtuosity and technical assurance are impressive enough, but there is a lack of differentiation in touch, articulation and tempo. In particular in the scales and chord sequences we get an almost endless repetition of the same. Here his playing is often awkward and lacks fluency. The recording quality doesn't make things any better: the microphones have been too close to the instrument, and as it produces a pretty heavy sound anyway there is something aggressive in these performances which is becoming tiresome after a while.

I had preferred a more differentiated approach as we get in Soler's sonatas from Maggie Cole. Her tempi are better - some of Lester's tempi are unnaturally slow which make some scales a bit ponderous. The Fandango is much more captivating and imaginative in her interpretation than in Lester's. The latter writes: "There are points in the score where the writing is quite sparse and I have taken the liberty of adding a few 'Spanishisms' here and there. I have also truncated the work slightly where, to my mind, repetition becomes superfluous". There is no need for this - when a piece of music of this calibre is becoming a bit boring because of the repetitions it is usually the fault of the interpreter who fails to deal with these repetitions in a creative way. Simply cutting passages is the easiest way out.

The booklet says that Richard Lester has been acclaimed as "one of the greatest early music performers of this or any other time". I don't like that sort of exaggerated accolade. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: every time the interpreter - whatever his reputation may be - has to prove his credentials by his performances, and Richard Lester's performances on this disc haven't convinced me he is the right person to play this repertoire. It is difficult to find reasons to recommend this disc. The only thing I can think of is the inclusion of sonatas by Carlos Seixas which fill a gap in the catalogue. Those who have a special interest in Iberian keyboard music may be tempted to purchase this disc for that reason. Others may look for other recordings: for Soler there are several to choose from, and Maggie Cole's is definitely a good choice. I am aware of two disc which are entirely devoted to Seixas: Robert Wooolley (Amon Ra - he actually uses the same instrument as Lester) and Débora Halász (Naxos). I haven't been able to listen to them at length, but my impression from the tracks I have heard is favourable, and therefore I would recommend to look for them, although they play other sonatas than Richard Lester. 

Johan van Veen


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index