This is the second of two volumes given over by Naxos to the 27 keyboard Sonatas by Spanish composer Antonio Soler presented to the Whig statesman Earl Fitzwilliam to publish in England. They eventually surfaced around a quarter of a century later in London under the auspices of Robert Birchall. The special value of these Sonatas, aside from their inherent musicality, is the fact that, out of 120 or more Soler is known to have composed, they are the only ones that survive in a manuscript written in his lifetime, by dint of having been passed on by Fitzwilliam, by whose name they are today known.
The first fifteen on volume 1 were played by Croatian soloist Martina Filjak also on the piano (8.572515). Her connection with Shimkus is that they were 54th and 55th winners respectively of the First Prize at the Maria Canals International Music Competition in Barcelona (2008, 2009). Both volumes were recorded in the Auditorium at Girona in Catalunya, where the acoustic is very listener-friendly.
As short a while ago as 2007 harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland completed his cycle for Naxos of Soler's complete Sonatas - see this review of volume 12, which has links to many previous issues. As with Filjak, Latvian pianist Vestard Shimkus's set sounds quite different, and probably better - Soler's artful keyboard Sonatas seem at their most eloquent on a modern piano, which, though hardly historical - the pedalling boldly so - gives much greater scope for dynamic expressiveness and mellifluousness. This is especially the case with the help of a highly competent soloist like Shimkus, and despite the fact that Soler likely composed them as didactic pieces.
As the tracklist indicates, Shimkus plays the Sonatas in pairs in the same key. As with Domenico Scarlatti, these may well have been intended to be performed as such, but there is no conclusive evidence. It certainly does no harm - there is so much wizardry going on in every piece that key variation is neither here nor there. Scarlatti is an ideal reference here - the style is close to his famed Parma Sonatas. Proof that Soler was the more adventurous keyboardist - "the devil in monk's clothing", as he was once dubbed - and arguably the greater composer, can be found in, say, Pieter-Jan Belder's complete recording of the Sonatas for Brilliant Classics (review of volume 1), or for those short on time, in his well-known and outstanding keyboard Fandango (authorship of which is, however, doubted by some authorities).
The booklet, typically for Naxos, does not give too much away, though as usual what notes there are are well written and historically illuminating. There is also a paragraph of biography for Shimkus and another for the Maria Canals Competition, which alone, for no clear reason, also has a Spanish translation.
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