Antonio Soler: Keyboard Sonatas Nos. 42-56 / Mateusz Borowiak, piano


Between 1997 and 2006, Naxos released a series of thirteen recordings performed by harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland of the complete keyboard sonatas by Antonio Soler. What's shaping up to be another cycle of Soler's sonatas began in 2011, with two key differences: one is that the performances are all on a modern grand piano, and secondly, each of the four issues to date is performed by a different pianist. One thing each musician has in common is that he or she took First Prize at the Canals International Music Competition of Barcelona. I've not heard the previous three releases, but if this one performed by Mateusz Borowiak is an exemplar of the lot, pianophiles will want to take notice.

Soler's sonatas may not be a paradigm of originality. He was a student of the great Bach contemporary, Domenico Scarlatti, whose 555 keyboard sonatas are among the towering achievements of Western music. Like Scarlatti's, Soler's 150 keyboard sonatas represent his most important work, and exhibit many stylistic features that defined the unique character of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas a generation earlier. They are largely single movement works that can be harmonically daring, often including abrupt modulations to far-flung keys with arpeggiated harmonies and peppered with rapid, repetitive figurations. The music is alive with sparkling energy and graceful lyricism.

Compared directly, Soler's sonatas may appear to lack the technical complexity, sonorous effect and passionate cascade of thematic invention found in Scarlatti's works, however they are of a later time, and should not be compared straightforwardly. Soler's sonatas are not mere cookie-cutter imitations of Scarlatti's, but are the product of a composer influenced both by what came before and by the winds of change coming from pre-classical Vienna. The formal clarity and simpler methods of Soler's sonatas are certainly by design, and are integral elements of this immensely satisfying music.

These sonatas are rather scarcely represented on disc, especially in performances on a modern grand piano. Mateusz Borowiak's polished performances and Naxos's demonstration class engineering combine to illuminate this important body of piano works from the early classical period.

Antonio Soler: Fandango for Harpsichord