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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Antonio Soler, Harpsichord Sonatas, Barbara Harbach, Box Set

Antonio Soler (1729-1783) may not be as well-known these days as someone like CPE Bach, but his music has a vitality that sounds right to us today. He was born in Catalan and had a successful career in Spain, ultimately as chapel master for the Royal Court in El Escorial. He was an ordained priest.

We look to his masterful Harpsichord Sonatas (MSR 1300 14-CDs), some 120 in all, for his early classical inventiveness. Barbara Harbach gives us an exhaustive, but certainly not exhausting rendition of the 120 in the recent limited edition box set.

They are a remarkable body of music, rhythmically lively, filled with clarity of form and singing melodic charm. They sound most certainly related to Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas, so much so that there has been speculation that Soler studied with him when he was tenured in Spain, but we do not know for sure.

They both have that infectiously lively approach that fills the ears and heart with great good cheer. Both sets of sonatas are at times very Spanish in their dance-like vivacity. And both grab you with their gallant quality and straightforward musical perfection.

Barbara Harbach sounds entirely ravishing in her performances throughout. She seems just right on Willard Martin's 1989 copy of an 18th century two-manual French harpsichord. And the recording has a pristine clarity of sound that goes far in making the music come alive.

If you love Scarlatti's sonatas you will find the Soler entrancing as well. Do you really need all 14 volumes? They come at a very good price, so why not treat yourself? It's music played with great verve and there is no time or mood where the music does not fit in, in my experience. It is something to cheer you in the new year ahead!

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