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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Seis conciertos de dos órganos obligados (Six Concertos for two organs), R463 (145)
Concerto No.1 in C [6:54]
Concerto No.2 in a-minor [11:30]
Concerto No.3 in G [7:56]
Concerto No.4 in F [7:12]
Concerto No.5 in A [9:29]
Concerto No.6 [10:40]
Jürgen Essl (gospel organ, 1735) and Jeremy Joseph (epistle organ, 1695, 1736)
rec. Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City, 6-8 May, 2018. DSD/DDD.
Reviewed from 2-channel SACD layer.
CYBELE 031802 SACD [53:40]

Obra vocal en latín (Latin vocal works)
Dixit Dominus, a4 y ripieno (Rubio No.18)* (1754) [12:30]
Magnificat, a8 (Rubio No.259)* [9:27]
Incipit Lamentatio. Aleph. Quomodo sedet, Lamentación I del Jueves Santo a8 (First Lamentation for Maundy Thursday, Rubio No.94/1-2)* (1762) [15:35]
[Verso para el Alzar]. Largo (Rubio No. 471) [7:03]
Salve, Regina, a5 (Rubio No.9) (1753) [9:38]
Miserere, a8 (Rubio No.295) [22:11]
La Grande Chapelle/Albert Recasens
* world premiere recordings.
rec. Capilla del Espíritu Santo de la Catedral de Cuenca, 20-21 October 2017. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
LAUDA LAU018 [76:24]

Cybele: Searching for comparison for my copy of the Decca recording of these chamber concertos, on which Peter Hurford and Thomas Trotter play the gospel and epistle organs of Salamanca Cathedral (4361152), and sure that I knew where it was, the inevitable happened – I couldn’t find it and had to stream it from Naxos Music Library. How convenient that service is for those who, like me, have let their CDs, DVDs and blu-rays get totally out of control. Even in mp3, the Decca recording sounds fine and the performances are so good that I’m pleased that Presto have restored it to availability as one of their special CDs.

The concertos were composed for Soler to perform with the Infante Don Gabriel – though he was not, it seems, his keyboard pupil, as used to be thought – with the junior allotted the senior role. They would not have had access to a chapel with two organs – one on the epistle side, the other on the gospel side, as on the Decca and Cybele recordings, but as the music doesn’t require pedals, one part might well have been played on the harpsichord; the term órgano could apply to any keyboard instrument. There are two organs in the Escorial palace-monastery where Soler was employed, but they are too far apart to have been played together.

Be that as it may, I enjoyed hearing the two organs on the Decca recording and, to a slightly lesser extent, the new Cybele. In almost every movement Hurford and Trotter take a little longer – sometimes considerably longer – than Jürgen Essl and Jeremy Joseph and, though this is music that never probes the deepest emotions, I found their approach preferable. Their slower tempi never make the music sound dull, just the contrary.

In the first movement of Concerto No.3, andantino, they presumably observe repeats which Essl and Joseph omit – I can’t be sure without access to the score. The same would seem to apply to the minuets of Nos. 5 and 6.

As I was writing up this review, Dominy Clements reviewed the Cybele ahead of me. He singles out the opening movement, afectuoso, of No.4 for praise. Here, indeed, the two pairs of performers, Decca and Cybele, agree almost exactly on the basic tempo and I find it hard to prefer one or the other. As DC writes, the Salamanca organs are less flamboyant than the two in Mexico City, but again I really can’t choose; they are just different. I’m only too pleased to hear two pairs of instruments of such age in Spain and Mexico that are in tune.

Both recordings feature well-chosen registration and both bring out the sheer enjoyment of the music, not least the way in which these concertos go out in style in the minuet finale of No.6, reminiscent of the jaunty music of Boccherini.

The Cybele comes with a detailed booklet, stapled inside a cardboard diptych, a practice which is now becoming almost the norm. Most of it is taken up, however, with photographs and definitions of the difference between SACDs and CDs – I think most of us know by now. The detaied specifications of the two organs, however, are very useful. Each instrument has a few pedal stops, including one each at 16-foot, but I didn’t hear any evidence that they were used for this recording; they are certainly not required.

I’ve already said that the Decca recording remains very good, even as heard in mp3. The Cybele is a hybrid SACD, to which I listened from the high-definition stereo track. It’s very good but not, I think, hugely higher-fi than the Decca CD if I ever find it again. All in all, unless you must have surround sound or wish to listen on headphones from the third option, 3D binaural sound, my marginal preference would still be for Messrs. Hurford and Trotter.

Either recording would serve to whet the appetite for more music by Soler. In that regard, you might well try the final volume of Gilbert Rowland’s series of recordings of his solo harpsichord music for Naxos – review review – and some of the earlier volumes.

I closed my review of that Naxos recording by bemoaning the lack of recordings of Soler’s vocal and choral output. The Lauda recording helps rectify that, and does so in style. I made a brief mention of it in my Autumn 2018/3 survey, though I was in a hurry, tidying that up for publication. Having heard the music on Radio 3 Record Review, I was too impressed not to include it. In my haste I gave the wrong performance venue and dates, which are corrected above; I was confused because the booklet lists the date of the public performance in Madrid which preceded the recording in Cuenca Cathedral, with its restored eighteenth-century organ, heard on its own in the verso on track 4.

Pleased as I am, however, to have these recordings, some world premieres, with even the rest absent from the current catalogue, the pleasure is doubled by finding the music to be of such high quality and it’s trebled by the quality of the performances. Of this team in music by Valls, also for Lauda, Johan van Veen praised their lack of vibrato, clarity and articulation – review. Larger forces are used for the Soler recording, with some of the music in eight parts, but these qualities are equally apparent.

I shall be looking out for La Grande Chapelle’s other recordings for Lauda, such as that featuring two Masses by Alonso Lobo (LAU013) and Pedro Ruimonte en Bruselas (LAU017) which Johan van Veen made a Recording of the Year - review. As for the quality of the music, it’s not unfair to compare Soler’s Dixit Dominus with Handel’s setting of that psalm (with his Gloria on BIS-1235, Emma Kirkby, etc.) or even with the great Masses and other sacred music which Haydn composed for the Esterházy family later in the century.  It’s no accident that Soler has been seen as a bridge between the baroque and the classical.

No reservations, then, about the Lauda recording, and very few about the Cybele, though my marginal preference in the concertos is for the Decca.

Brian Wilson

Previous review (Cybele): Dominy Clements

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