In November 1770, Infante Don Luis, the younger brother
of King Charles IV of Spain, engaged Boccherini as his chamber
musician and composer. Don Luis was a rather eccentric and
dissipated character whose interests included coin collecting
and exotic birds.
Boccherini’s Op. 11 quintets (with two cellos) were
some of the first fruits of this engagement, where the composer
played with the quartet made up by the Font family who were
already in the Infante’s service.
Infante Don Luis married in 1776. Shortly after, the
bride and bridegroom were installed at a small court in the
town of Las Arenas de San Pedro. This retirement was necessary
because his wife, though noble, was not of Royal blood and
could not be received at Court. Inevitably, in this semi-exile
music played an important part in their life. Boccherini’s
Quartet Op, 24 dates from this period. It is a charming work,
which receives a gracious performance from Les Folies Francoises.
Les Folies Francoises is a French ensemble, formed in
2000 by Patrick Cohen-Akenine. The group is able to shift
from chamber ensemble to orchestra according to need and
they explore the vast range of 17th and 18th century
instrumental and vocal music.
They respond admirably to the civilised balance in Boccherini’s
music, producing a well-modulated and gracious performance.
Occasionally I could have wished for more of a sense of depth
and drama, but Boccherini would, I think, have appreciated
their civilised poise.
In 1781 Infante Don Luis commissioned Boccherini to
write a Stabat Mater for soprano and five-part string
ensemble. No information about the premiere has come down
to us, so we can only speculate about how it was first performed.
Les Folies Francoises have chosen to perform it as a chamber
piece, with soprano and one instrument to a part.
The result is charmingly intimate and mellifluously
moving. Soprano Sophie Karthauser has a light, attractively
focused voice which is on the same scale as the accompaniment.
The piece is in eleven movements and sets the complete text
of the poem. Boccherini mixes recitative, free arioso and
full-scale, quasi-operatic arias to -create an attractive
work. It is a civilised meditation on the meaning of the
poem rather than an exploration of the dark themes that could
be found within.
Though there are superficial links with such works as
Haydn’s Seven Last Words, Boccherini seems content
to omit real darkness and pain. The performance, though admirable
and gently moving, could perhaps be a little more intense
and more muscular. It is here that the decision to perform
the work in chamber form affects the sound-world of the resulting
Boccherini went on to adapt the work for two sopranos,
and tenor and it was published in this form in 1801.
Boccherini’s vocal music is not particularly well known
and this disc sheds an interesting light on his Spanish episode.
If the performances don’t completely plumb the depths of
the works, they display a fine musicality and balance, which
can’t be bad.
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