Antonio Soler (1729-1783) has only come to the fore in the last two decades or so. This is most unfortunate for a composer who managed to write some 470 works in the space of almost 30 years. The reasons are several, but his humble birth, his upbringing and musical education, and his eventual isolation in the Escurial soon after taking his priestly vows in 1753, have effectively drawn a veil over the more intimate details of his life. What we do know is that he was a humble monk with a punishing working schedule which allowed him only four hours sleep at night, and that he was wholly devoted to his post as the organist and "Magisterio de Capilla" at the same Escurial.
This highly enjoyable CD encompasses 12 of Soler's Sonatas that were originally written for harpsichord, and as the soloist earmarks in her essay, Soler's sonatas can be played more easily on the harp than, say, those by Domenico Scarlatti. The composer's transparent music gives the harp player a range of possibilities to work with the natural resonance of the instrument. But these pieces also offer great challenges, as the soloist has to work with intelligibility, articulation and very often with the serpentine figures in the music.
Although these pieces were written by an overworked and austere monk, there is nothing holy about them. Indeed, these sonatas are brimming with joy and life and a strong dance element so reminiscent of Iberian folklore. Naturally, moments of melancholy and sadness do appear at times, but these are at a premium, and generally the music is full of inventiveness and surprising turns.
The Dutch harpist Godelieve Schrama gives breezy yet fascinating performances, and her supreme mastery of the instrument makes the music sing with unbounded bliss. A real peach of a disc in the best MD&G traditions we have come to expect.
Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech.