At the beginning of this month, Naxos released the sixth volume in its second project to record all of the keyboard sonatas of Antonio Soler. Recordings for the first project were all made by harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland and were released between 1996 and 2007. This time around, each volume, consisting of a single CD, involves a different pianist, all of whom were winners of the Maria Canals International Music Competition, held every year in Barcelona. The pianist on the sixth volume is Stanislav Khristenko, who took first prize at the 59th competition, held in 2013.
This album contains only four sonatas, numbered 63 through 66, following the numbering system of Samuel Rubio, whose edition of the Soler sonatas ran to seven volumes published between 1952 and 1972. Those who have been following these Naxos releases (or are acquainted with Rubio’s publications) probably know that Number 60 in C major (included in the fifth volume of the series) was Soler’s first sonata to consist of more than one movement. This was a major departure from the structural approach taken by Soler’s contemporary, Domenico Scarlatti, who composed almost all single-movement sonatas in binary form (with the exception of a few fugues). Number 60 has only two movements, coupling a leisurely Andantino with a brief Allegro vivo. This is followed by two four-movement sonatas, both of which include minuet movements.
All four sonatas on the new volume consist of three movements, and they all follow roughly the same structural pattern. The middle movement is the Allegro, and it is introduced by a slower movement. Most interesting, however, is that the final movement of each of these sonatas is a fugue. Thus, any “comfortable” expectations that had been established over the course of the first four volumes have now been eliminated. According to the booklet notes by Keith Anderson, these four sonatas are the first of a set of six all of which date from 1777. Scarlatti had died in Madrid in 1757; so it would appear that Soler had been gradually working away from the Baroque conventions that were already in decline when Scarlatti died, seeking out, instead, his own approach to the Classical conventions that were emerging.
That makes this new album a fascinating release, particularly for those who thought they knew all about Soler on the basis of his single-movement sonatas. If the younger Soler tended to distinguish himself with flamboyant finger-busting virtuosity, this new release presents us with an older Soler (two years short of his 50th birthday) confident enough to explore new approaches to what a sonata could be. That adventurous nature is all the more interesting when we consider the possibility that Soler’s knowledge of what was happening in the rest of Europe halfway through the eighteenth century was probably relatively limited, if he had any such knowledge at all. (What would he have done had he encountered the work of the teenaged Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose travels never took him across the Pyrenees into the Iberian Peninsula?)