Young Ukrainian pianist Denis Zhdanov takes the baton from Latvian Vestard Shimkus (8.572616, review
) and, before him, Croatian Martina Filjak (8.572515). It’s the third volume in the Naxos series dedicated to the entertaining, imaginative keyboard sonatas of Catalan composer Antonio Soler.
Filjak, Shimkus and Zhdanov are consecutive first-prize winners of the Maria Canals
International Music Competition in Barcelona (2008-10). The whole cosmopolitan series to date has been recorded in nearby Girona - the town of Soler's birth - in a spacious but attractive acoustic at the trendy Palau de Congressos there.
As short a while ago as 2007 Gilbert Rowland completed his 13-CD traversal for Naxos of Soler's complete sonatas (review
of final volume). Why are Naxos doing another cycle already?
is a good question - Rowland's was widely praised at the time, certainly as far as the later recordings were concerned.
Rowland is a harpsichordist and therein lies the primary difference here - all soloists in this new run perform on a modern piano. This naturally raises immediate questions concerning historical authenticity - Soler died before the grand became the powerful, highly expressive instrument it was in Beethoven's time, particularly with regard to pedalling.
On the other hand, as with Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas and J.S. Bach's keyboard concertos, there is something to be said for hearing Soler on a modern piano. Zhdanov, in his debut commercial recording, steers an appealing middle course between informed period performance and full-on romanticisation, confidently offering, like Filjak and Shimkus before him, a smoothing and colourful alternative to what are, to many ears, the jagged edges and monochrome of the harpsichord.
Keith Anderson's booklet notes are fairly perfunctory, with just a line or two on each sonata. He does however draw attention to nos. 40 and 41, the first of which "seems to suggest a new world" with its unusual modulations and "orchestral textures and suggestions of an operatic overture", whilst the galant style of the latter is "well suited to the developing keyboard instruments of the new age." As for the rest, it is fair to say that no one who enjoys Scarlatti's sonatas will be disappointed. Far from it, in fact: Soler was actually the more adventurous keyboardist - "the devil in monk's clothing", as he was sometimes known - and arguably the greater composer. Certainly, his sonatas deserve to be widely known, and in that respect at least none can complain about another Naxos cycle. Unfortunately, at the current release rate, and if Rowland's was anything to go by, the full set will be another decade coming.
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