The Naxos label is in the middle of a large project in recording the complete keyboard music of Padre Antonio Soler (1729 -- 1783) not once but twice. Some years ago, Gilbert Rowland completed his recording of Soler on 13 Naxos CDs for harpsichord. Then in 2011, Naxos released the first of what now appears will be a series of Soler on the piano -- with each CD recorded by a different pianist much like the Naxos ongoing Scarlatti series. The Croatian pianist Martina Filjak recorded the first volume of Soler sonatas on the piano Keyboard Sonatas 1-15, and the Latvian pianist Vestard Shimkus has recorded this second volume. Shimkus won the Maria Canals International Piano Competition in 2009, an award that Filjak also won in 2008.
The Filjak recording included Soler's sonatas no. 1-15 (He composed about 150 sonatas.) while Shimkus' recording includes sonatas 16-27. Soler gave these 27 sonatas in manuscript to the British statesman and amateur musician Earl Firzwilliam, and they remain the only works that survive in a manuscript in the composer's hand. The remaining volumes in the series will use the now standard catalog of Soler's works developed by Father Samuel Rubio.
Most of Soler's sonatas are in the binary form that Scarlatti developed. As a young man, Soler may have studied with Scarlatti. There are two sections in the work, each of which is repeated. Many of the works of both Scarlatti and Soler may have been written in pairs, and this is the case for the sonatas on this CD. The CD consists of twelve sonatas paired in groups of two works in the same key.In each case, the paired sonatas are of contrasting moods and tempos. The first sonata in each pair is slow and reflective while the second in each pair is much livelier and extroverted.
The sonatas make much use of ornamentation, runs, repeated notes, arpeggios, dancing rhythms, and guitar-like passages that lovers of Scarlatti will find familiar. The sonatas on this CD generally develop from small phrases. Soler uses a small theme in each of the two halves of his sonata and varies and develops it as he proceeds. There are many shifts of texture from thin to thick, and a full use of the register of the keyboard. The music modulates frequently between major and minor and often makes surprising shifts. According to the liner notes, Soler distinguished between "slow" changes between one key and another and "agitated" surprising changes. These inventive changes are reflected in the music. In addition to his compositions, Soler wrote a treatise on harmony.
Of the six paired sonatas on this CD four are in the minor key and two in the major. For those with an interest in enharmonics,one pair of works is in c sharp minor with another pair in the key of D-flat major.The slow work always is presented first in these pairs.
Pianists playing Soler or Scarlatti need to make full use of the resources of their instrument rather than attempting to transfer the style of the harpischord to the piano. Shimkus does so and offers a large-scale reading of these sonatas. He uses the full dynamic range of the instrument and uses the pedal extensively. He plays the slow, quiet sections with great intimacy while giving virtuoso performances to the second sonata in each of the pairs. He captures the music's frequently sudden changes in mood and texture from running scales and arpeggios to crashing, repeated chords. In the sonata no 26 in e minor, the first of the pair, for example, he brings out a slow, legato bass line while emphasizing as well light chromatic passages in the piano's upper register. Shimkus has a powerhouse, virtuoso technique not often associated with performances of early music.
I enjoyed several of Rowland's harpsichord recordings of Soler as well as the first two piano recordings by Filjak and Shimkus. I look forward to hearing more of Soler on the piano in this series.
Total Time: 59:43