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CD: Columna Musica

Josep SOLER (b.1935)
Das Marien-Leben (1979, rev.2006) [16:29]
Concert dels Àngels (1992/2007) [16:34]
Das Marien-Leben (1959, rev. 2003) [12:59]      
Escena amb cranis (2007) [10:18]
El Cant de Déu  (1993) [14:41]
Elena Gragera (mezzo), Antón Cardó (piano), Badalona-Grup Instrumental: Jaime Rodríguez Roa (oboe), Josep Colomé (violin), Josep Maria Ferrando (viola), Marika Kobayashi (cello), Josep Soler (celeste, organ, harspsichord, piano), Arnau Orriols (organ), Joan Pere Gil Bonfill (clarinet, director)
rec. 22 December 2007, 3 February and 2 March 2008, Conservatori Professional de Música de Badalona; one movement of the Concert dels Àngels was recorded on the organ of Santa Maria de Vilafranca del Penedès
Texts and translations included
COLUMNA MÚSICA 1CM0195 [71:01] 
Experience Classicsonline

Josep Soler (Josep Soler i Sardà, to give him his full name) was born in Vilafranca del Penedés, on the River Foix, between Barcelona and Valencia. His early musical education locally was followed by periods of study in Paris, with Rene Leibowitz (and Leibowitz’s associations with both Schoenberg and Webern were relevant to Soler’s own musical development) and then in Barcelona with Cristòfor Taltabull (who had studied, in his youth, with Reger). Soler has, then, an exemplary pedigree, both international and Catalonian, and both dimensions of his inheritance are reflected in his music.

As well as being an influential teacher himself (as a Professor at the Barcelona Conservatory and then as Director of the Badalona Conservatory some ten miles north of that city), Soler’s work as a composer has deservedly won him many plaudits. Much of his energy as a composer has been devoted to opera - including such major works as Edipo y Yocasta (1972), Nerón (1985), Frankenstein (1996) and Jesús de Nazaret (1974-2002). A man of wide culture and interests, Soler has published books on Bach (J.S.Bach, Una estuctura del dolor, 2004) and Tomás Luis de Victoria (Victoria, 1983) and on the techniques of composition (e.g. Fuga, Técnica e Historia, 1980). He has also edited and translated some of the writings of the supposed Dionysus, Christian neoplatonist mystic and theologian (Pseudo Dionisio Areopagitica: Los Nombres Divinos y otros Escritos (1980) and written a work on Egyptian literature (Poesía y Teatro del Antiguo Egipto, 1999), as well as collections of his own poetry. It is from both the kind of learning and the kind of sensibility which such interests suggest that Soler’s music speaks with great humanity and a profound sense of the spiritual.

The present very welcome CD concentrates on some of Soler’s works for relatively small forces. Its title is well chosen - partly because the work which gives the CD its title is particularly good, but also because it has a particular kind of appropriateness to the nature of most of the music collected here. ‘El Cant de Déu’ is a setting, for mezzo and piano, of a poem by Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi, the thirteenth-century Persian poet and mystic. It is a poem which figures the human being as a musical instrument played by God - blown through by God, as it were, or, as we might say ‘inspired’ (breathed into) by God - before introducing an apprehension of the world as united in a return to God. Soler’s setting is initially meditative and later quietly rapturous, the response to Rumi’s words (in a French translation by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch and Mohammad Mokri) subtle and thoroughly convincing (at the opposite remove to many of the ‘translations’ of Rumi currently so popular in the U.S.A.). In 1984 Soler composed ‘Tres poemes de Rumi’ for soprano or tenor and piano. In 1993 he published three versions of ‘El Cant de Déu’ - the one heard here, one for instrumental ensemble and one for solo piano, as his third sonata for piano (recorded by Jordi Maso on Marco Polo 8.225083). Soler has, in short, thought long and hard about by Rumi, and his familiarity with the spirit of the Persian mystic is evident in this excellent and powerful setting.

The other work for solo voice and piano here is a setting of four of the poems from Rilke’s Das Marienleben of 1913, a setting first performed in Darmstadt in 1959, but since revised - in 1985, 1991 and 2006. Inveterate reworker of his own music - one might describe the process as obsessive - 1979 saw Soler producing a version for voice, oboe, celeste, violin, viola and cello (and revising that in 2006, too!). Hearing both versions together on this CD is fascinating, the version for chamber group slower and, perhaps naturally, putting less emphasis on the voice with a greater range of instrumental colours at the composer’s disposal to articulate his response to Rilke’s beautiful words.

Escena amb cranis (Scene with skulls) is another instance of Soler the self-reviser. It was first written in 1995 as a work for unaccompanied clarinet. In the version heard here a piano is added. But until the very end of the work the two instruments are never heard simultaneously. The result is a kind of elegiac loneliness, as we are made aware of the lack of communication, as it were, between these two voices, as each turns in on itself. Such dialogue as is achieved at the close of the work is tentative and leads to nor real resolution. This is bleak but beautiful music.

My own particular favourite amongst the works on this disc, and the one to which I imagine I shall return most frequently, is Concert dels Àngels. It consists of five movements, the first for cello and harpsichord, the second for organ, the third for oboe, cello and harpsichord, the fourth for organ and harpsichord and the last (symmetrically enough) for cello and harpsichord. They constitute the panels of a kind of musical altarpiece, the aural equivalent of those representations of a consort of angel musicians represented, for example, in the Van Eycks’ altarpiece in St. Baafskathedral in Ghent or in Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (now in the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar). The angel musicians on the cover of this CD come from an anonymous altarpiece of 1459, now preserved in the Museu de les Cultures del Vi de Catalunya in Vilafranca del Penedès - the town in which the composer was born. As it happens one of my abiding enthusiasms is for representations of angel musicians, reproductions of which I collect. Keats (in his Ode on A Grecian Urn) suggests that “heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter!”. When I imagine the “unheard” music of angel musicians I ‘hear’ much of it as joyous and affirmative. On the evidence of his Concert dels Àngels, Soler hears such music as primarily grave and solemn; this is the music of meditation and prayer rather than what Milton called “saintly shout”. Of the five movements of the Concert dels Àngels the two outer ones are marked ‘molto tranquillo’, as is the fourth; the second movement is marked ‘molto lento’ and the third is designated a ‘Sarabande grave’. But for all the lack of variation in tempo, interest is very much sustained throughout, both because of the changing instrumental colours and because of the evident authenticity of Soler’s musical/spiritual language.

Soler is a composer thoroughly and widely familiar with both the specifically musical tradition and with many other aspects of his cultural inheritance and his music, without being oversimply programmatic, is fully informed by that familiarity. The results are often very impressive.

Glyn Pursglove 









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