> Luigi BOCCHERINI - Quintets [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1791)
String Quintet in F minor, Opus 11 No. 4 (1771)
String Quintet in A major, Opus 11 No. 5 (1771)
String Quintet in D major, Opus 11 No. 6 (1771)
The Smithsonian Chamber Players
Rec 23-26 March 1988, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 05472 77851 2 [66.50]


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Boccherini was born at Lucca (the Italian town famous for being the home of the Puccini family) in 1843, and before he reached the age of twenty he had become a celebrated virtuoso of the cello. His career thereafter was truly international: in 1769 at the age of twenty-six he moved to Madrid, where he remained for eighteen years, until he took up the position of 'Composer of the Chamber' at the Berlin court of Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. In 1797 he returned to Spain, but without firm patronage, and the unfortunate result was that the last years of his life were spent in poverty.

In common with most composers of the period, he was active in many types of music. Operas, symphonies, concertos, church music, and most especially chamber music comprise his creative output: he wrote well in excess of two hundred quintets for various combinations, including nearly one hundred for string ensembles.

The Opus 11 quintets, of which three are collected here, were composed in 1771 and published four years later. If they are representative of Boccherini's talents, they show a composer at the height of his powers with a ready ability to communicate. The Smithsonian Chamber Players are distinguished musicians, and it is a particular pleasure to encounter a booklet which details the individuals of the ensemble and the instruments they play. In chamber music this surely counts for something, and besides that the musicians deserve to be credited for their considerable talents. For these are splendid performances, at once spirited and sensitive, alert to every detail of the scores.

The performing style is authentic, and there is an awareness of appropriate style and tempi. As a result the character of each individual work is felt, and Boccherini easily avoids the suspicion that a prolific composer resorts to easy formulae. Just like his contemporary Mozart, who would also die in 1791, he finds imaginative responses to the challenge of composing each new piece. Unlike Mozart, however, Boccherini added a cello, not a viola, to turn quartet into quintet. He was a virtuoso of the cello and his deep understanding of the instrument pays dividends in the richly expressive nature of the music.

The three opening movements are particularly successful, and set the tone for their respective works. Thus the Amoroso movement of the A major Quintet, with its very particular title, sets a distinctive and sensitive tone, before giving way to a more extensively developed and lively second movement. The darker F minor Quintet opens with a true slow movement, and again a larger and more dramatic movement follows. In the case of the D major Quintet, the issue is more complex, since both the first and last movements have dual characteristics, linking faster and slower music, including in the latter case minuet with Allegro finale.

All these features are strongly projected by the Smithsonian musicians, who have the advantage also of a fine, clear and well balanced recording. With interesting and informative booklet notes too, this is a reissue which can be enthusiastically recommended, particularly since the music is so appealing.

Terry Barfoot

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