I well remember, when CD was in its infancy, how wary LP collectors
predicted that, although the new medium might one day offer serious
competition in mainstream repertory, anything off the beaten track would
be unlikely ever to appear on CD. And yet the opposite has turned out
to be the case. We now have a choice of recordings of repertory which,
as recently as the early 1980s, would have been thought of as highly
specialised, and strictly for the attention only of the most curious
(in both senses of that word…) musician or music-lover.
Take these Boccherini string quartets, for example.
Rightly or wrongly, these are still little known. But even at super
bargain prices, anyone wishing to get to know (say) the Op 32 Nos
4, 5 and 6 pieces recorded here already have to choose between
this splendid Naxos issue, the Esterházy Quartet on Teldec 85566-2,
or the Nomos Quartet on CPO 999 202-2.
Now the fact that three major companies have opted
to invest in recordings of this music ought in itself to be seen as
a recommendation. Lovers of Haydn and Mozart (every musician, surely?)
need not hesitate. Contemporary with Haydn’s Op 33 quartets, and only
just pre-dating the first of Mozart’s so-called ‘Haydn’ quartets, these
pieces are consistently engaging, with an abundance of attractively
melodic ideas in both the energetic outer movements and the expressive
slow movements. Texturally, they are ‘modern’ if not ahead of their
time, with plenty of interest in the lower voices – the cello especially
– and always alive with detail. If you’re expecting any of Haydn’s naughty
tricks, or Mozart’s aching chromaticisms, you may be disappointed. But,
although these pieces plumb no great depths, it would be unfair to dismiss
them as mere lightweight entertainment.
The Borciani Quartet take their name from the Quartetto
Italiano’s founder and leader. Not unlike their distinguished forbears,
they play with insight, sensitivity and polish. They sing like singers
in the andantes; and they run like runners in the allegros. With exemplary
sound quality and all of 79 minutes of music, there is much to enjoy
here: and all for a fiver!
Peter J Lawson