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Padre Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Sonata in D flat major (without Rubio number) [5:18]
Sonata No.88 in D flat major [5:00]
Sonata No.77 in F sharp minor [8:04]
Sonata No.78 in F sharp minor [5:46]
Sonata No.37 in D major [3:04]
Sonata No.64 in G major (1777) [16:53]
Sonata No.126 in C minor [11:47]
Sonata No.61 in C major (1782) [17:46]
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichordist)
Rec. Epsom College Concert Hall, Surrey from 10th to 12th July, 2002. DDD
Sonatas for Harpsichord, Volume 10
NAXOS 8.557137 [73:51]

 

In spite of his full time career as monk and maestro di cappella at the Escorial monastery, Catalan composer Padre Antonio Soler found the time to composer more than 200 sonatas for harpsichord as well as many more secular and sacred pieces. On top of this heavy schedule, Soler invented a tuning box that he called a templante and wrote a controversial treatise on harmony, "The Key to Modulation". As with his teacher, Domenico Scarlatti, Soler is known almost exclusively for his keyboard music. It is therefore no surprise that Naxos have recently come out with a 10th volume of his harpsichord sonatas.

A lot is made of Solerís tutelage under the master keyboard composer, Scarlatti. However, there are as many similarities as there are dissimilarities in their style, with Soler favouring the Alberti basses and irregular phrasing and Scarlatti revelling in acciaccaturas. In his later sonatas, Soler preferred three- or four- movement format, with each movement in the same key, as opposed to his teacherís single movement and paired sonatas. What the music of both composers shares is stunning virtuosity, wild syncopations and a rhythmically energetic Spanish flavour.

One other difference between the two composers is that Solerís sonatas are generally at a more moderate pace, with only a few in quick tempi. This is a particularly interesting point in light of Gilbert Rowlandís momentous pace. The playfulness of Solerís sonatas is sometimes lost in his performance that is technically flawless but too rushed to relish. The first track (sonata in D flat major), for instance, sounds cluttered because the run of mordent flourishes has no time to breathe. Interesting modulations [at 0:33 and 4:25] are also victims of an unrelenting pace. It might have been an idea to heed the wise words of the composer himself,

"What good does it do if a work is well written but stirs no feelings in the listener?" (from The Key to Modulation)

In Rowlandís defence, this is not Solerís most inspired composition. It might have been a better idea to open with another sonata, such as the lovely two-movement C minor sonata [tracks 9 and 10]. Neither does the harsh acoustic help. A softer climate could well have mitigated the aggressive marriage of speed and a very busy, ornate texture.

The programme is well chosen and the sonatas on this record offer a variety of effects. Sonata no.88 in D flat major [track 2] has some surprising dissonances (semitone intervals played simultaneously) and interesting guitar-like strumming textures. Sonata no.37 in D major is the most Scarlatti-like, with triplet figuration against a forward moving bass line. My personal favourite is the Allegro from Sonata no.126 in C minor [track 10], which in places reminds me of the terrifying Schubert lied "Erlkönig".

A well-rounded CD overall, encompassing a wide range of moods, keys and structures. Possibly not the strongest opening, but donít let that put you off. The rest is definitely worth listening to.

Aline Nassif

 



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