PADRE ANTONIO SOLER: Selected Sonatas for Harp [TrackList below] – Godelieve Schrama, harp – MDG Scene multichannel (2+2+2) SACD MDG 903 1627-6, 66:50 [Distr. by E1] ****:
Although Soler studied with Domenico Scarlatti and often continued the general style of that composer’s 550-odd keyboard sonatas, and although both of them spent much of their careers as music instructors to royal figures, they are really quite different. Unlike the Italian Scarlatti, Soler was born in Catalonia and spent his later life isolated in the dour Escorial monastery near Madrid. His musical contacts were few – only Scarlatti and Boccherini and thru the latter, Haydn. He was a humble monk who spent more time in the solitude of his cell than the other monks. He was also an organist and chapel master. Yet he turned out some 471 works in 30 years.
Harpist Schrama writes in the note booklet about how the music of the baroque and classical period doesn’t fit the modern concert harp very well. Although the keyboard works of Scarlatti have been adapted for the harp, guitar, accordion and other instruments, she says that Soler’s keyboard sonatas – which of course all these harp selections are – transfer more successfully to her instrument than do Scarlatti’s. She credits their greater transparency, giving the modern harpist more possibilities to work with the natural resonance of the harp. She also says that Bach is even less successful on the concert harp. She hears a strong influence of the Moorish culture in Soler’s sonatas, more so than the flamenco influence in Scarlatti’s – altho that is occasionally also heard in Soler.
The dozen sonatas heard here contrast more with one another than the typical Scarlatti sonatas. Some are quiet and straightforward, while others – such as No. 15 – require even greater efforts at crossed hands than found on Scarlatti sonatas. No. 117 is full of strange notes and bizarre harmonies. Schrama also mentions the difficulties of achieving the often-required staccato quality on the concert harp. This SACD demonstrates to my ears more than the usual all-Soler harpsichord album the amazingly varied cornucopia of musical colors and tastes found in Soler’s music. Soler is an early representative of the unique musical facility which composers of Catalonian descent have exhibited.
Sonata No. 48 en modo dorico, Allegro
Sonata No. 18 en modo dorico, Cantabile
Sonata No. 19 en modo dorico, Allegro moderato
Sonata No. 84 D major / ré majeur / D-Dur, Allegro
Sonata No. 117 en modo dorico, Molto moderato
Sonata No. 6 F major / fa majeur / F-Dur, Presto
Sonata No. 100 en modo dorico, Adagio – Largo
Sonata No. 15 en modo dorico, Allegretto
Sonata No. 73 D major / ré majeur / D-Dur, Allegro
Sonata No. 74 D major / ré majeur / D-Dur, Andante
Sonata No. 1 A major / la majeur / A-Dur, Allegro
Sonata No. 104 en modo dorico, Allegro
— John Sunier