I love the keyboard music of Antonio Soler. It is clear that
Pieter-Jan Belder does too, although I suspect for different
reasons. To me, Soler was the liberator of the keyboard player's
left hand, underpinning his textures with some really heavy
bass and making the most of the bottom end of the harpsichord
keyboard. When played on the piano, the performer can really
emphasise this aspect of the music, laying into the repeated
pedals in the bass and taking the textures almost into the realms
of industrial minimalism.
That option isn't open to the harpsichordist, but I don't think
Belder would indulge in that sort of thing even if he could.
His Soler is closer to Scarlatti. It is melodically driven,
decorated only with simple ornaments, and above all structurally
focused. Soler has been in the harpsichord, organ and piano
repertoire since the early part of the 20th century,
and performance practice of his music has kept up with all the
various fashions and trends in the presentation of 18th
century music. Belder is careful to balance the baroque and
Enlightenment sensibilities, adding shades of rubato at structurally
significant cadences, for example, but never straying too far
from the rigid tempos that characterise performances of music
of earlier generations.
The harpsichord sound is wonderful. The instrument was made
in 2003 by Cornelius Bom. It has a clean, precise sound, but
never feels underpowered. The liner does not mention the temperament
or pitch used, but it sounds quite modern. Not too jarring in
other words, so ancient and modern meet in the combination of
archaic timbre and more modern pitching. The audio quality is
very good too, a very immediate sound from the harpsichord,
and with plenty of that essential Soler bass.
The liner contains an essay by Frederick Martin, the scholar
responsible for popularising Soler in the years after the war.
By the sound of things, we are very lucky to have this music
at all. No original manuscripts of Soler's keyboard survive.
The monastery in Monserrat where he spent a great deal of his
life turned out to be the most useful source of manuscripts,
all in other hands. In fact the number of nationalities involved
in transmitting Soler's music to the modern world is astonishing.
The composer himself was Catalan, his first editor of modern
times was the Cuban composer Joaquin Nin, Frederick Marvin is
American, and now here we have a recording of the music from
The order and numbering of the sonatas in the recording follows
the Rubio edition - the work of a Spanish scholar. Dating the
works is close to impossible, so the order can be treated as
more or less arbitrary. On the other hand, the numerical approach
shows a loyalty to the principle of a complete recording cycle.
There isn't much variety between the pieces, and to be honest
two discs is quite a heavy dose. This is probably a candidate
for taking half a dozen tracks and adding them into your iPod
It is good to see Brilliant Classics branching out from their
core reissue activities. The number and range of discs they
have put on the market – at bargain price – over the last couple
of months suggests that they plan to be one of the more optimistic
and energetic labels in the classical music market of the future,
whatever that looks like. If this recording is anything to go
by, they could well be onto a good thing. Heaven knows how they
make a profit out of this sort of a release, but here's hoping
they do, and that they continue serving classical music's various
niche markets to this high standard. Gavin Dixon
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