David Schrader concludes his selective, two-part survey of Antonio Soler’s imaginative harpsichord sonatas with an album of witty pieces that elicit smiles and others that bring to mind a wealth of instrumental timbres, most notably Spanish guitar and baroque trumpet flourishes.
Schrader plays vivaciously; his readings sparkle with freshness and immediacy that make these 200-year-old pieces seem almost new. This album includes nine sonatas, with the cheery, quasi-classical, four-movement Sonata No. 62 flanked by pieces in conventional Baroque single-movement form.
In the liner notes, Schrader writes of Soler’s musical humor, at one point conjuring the image of the composer "snickering" as keyboard players careen through Sonata No. 10’s devilishly difficult passages. (The sonata calls to mind cartoon-like-cat-and-mouse escapes, carnival calliopes, tubas, and melodramatic piano tracks for silent movies - although no one claims Soler was that prescient.) Schrader says historical evidence indicates Spanish royalty and clergy did have a sense of humor (the Inquisition notwithstanding).
Many of Soler’s later sonatas show the emergence of the Classical age, but Sonata No. 81, with its sudden contrasts, prefigures even Romantic forms, The exhilaration the listener senses in the music might well relate to the thrill of venturing beyond old barriers.
Although a Spanish quality permeates Soler’s music in general, the leisurely paced Sonata No. 74 takes this association to another level: it’s written (and performed) in a way that make the harpsichord sound uncannily like a guitar. Particularly colorful, this sonata also evokes trumpet fanfares in coda-like passages.