This ten CD box is
drawn from Capriccio’s extensive Boccherini
back catalogue. Purchasers should be
aware that it does not include the complete
symphonies, or string quartets, or string
quintets etc., but a selection from
all these genres. At its published price
of £23 for all 10 discs recommendation
is a "no brainer" even if
the quality of performances were mediocre.
However, this is emphatically not the
case. With the exception of one ensemble
the musicians involved here produce
performances of the very highest quality.
I had expected the
reviewing of this set to be a bit of
a trial, after all Boccherini wrote
"that" minuet and "that"
cello concerto didn’t he! Well, to be
specific, yes and no respectively. The
minuet from his String Quintet in E
major Opus 11 No.5 is neither particularly
representative of his composing style
nor as it happens in this box. The Cello
Concerto was so heavily bastardised
by the late 19th Century
composer/cellist Friedrich Grutzmacher
as to be irrelevant, and fortunately
it isn’t in this box either.
What blazed out from
this excellent set was the remarkable
quality and variety of Boccherini’s
inspiration. It became obvious that
the conventional view of Boccherini
as one of the "other" classical
composers not to be mentioned in the
same breath as Haydn or Mozart or J
C Bach could not be more wrong. As is
remarked by Ludwig Finscher in one of
the many excellent sleeve notes accompanying
this set "Among the major composers
of the 18th Century Boccherini
is probably the one whom history has
treated most unjustly. Musical research
and musical practice are only slowly
beginning to discover the other Boccherini
..." That other Boccherini lead
your reviewer to work through this set
with growing amazement and pleasure.
Boccherini is not quite like Haydn,
despite being his contemporary, and
surprisingly presaging Beethoven in
many of his ideas and the sound of his
orchestra. As a result of spending most
of his career in the backwoods of provincial
Spain, Boccherini had no idea of what
was going on at the centre in Vienna.
As a result of which he pursued his
own muse in some 27 Symphonies, nearly
100 String Quartets, over 100 String
Quintets and over 100 other chamber
works but very few vocal works owing
to the lack of performance opportunities.
When you buy this box, as you absolutely
must do, read through the notes because
they make up a fascinating and surprisingly
detailed commentary on his life and
work, missing only the last few years,
which for some reason best known to
Capriccio no-one has seen fit to represent.
There is a reference to the notes of
another disc which is not here. Perhaps
it is part of another monster Boccherini
Let me pick out a few
key moments to whet your appetite, and
since the numbering of Boccherini’s
works is so erratic I have used G numbers
to reference items. The "G"
is for Yves Gerard, a French musicologist
who, so far as I am aware, is still
with us, and probably still cataloguing
Boccherini’s huge output!
The first movement
of the Quartet No.90 (!) Opus 64 No.1
G248 is tremendously dramatic music.
Not something for which "that"
minuet would have prepared you. The
slow movement of the String Quartet
No.55 G213 is a most powerful statement.
Throughout the quartet performances
the Peterson Quartet sound as committed
to this music as they might have been
to any quartet of Mozart. The first
Divertimento G461 is typical of the
four Divertimenti in Volume 2, elegant
and graceful music but sometimes, as
in the 4th movement, vital
and dramatic and not without soul. The
trio of the 4th Divertimento
G464 sounds extremely Spanish. Unsurprising
given where he lived and he did make
an effort to include Spanish idioms
for the benefit of his royal patron.
The finale of the 5th Divertimento
G465 entitled Gara, is absolutely
wild and I played this twice because
it was such fun. The musicians performing
these works are named on the box but
do not seem to be members of a formal
chamber ensemble and this is the case
with some of the other discs. I can
only assume that they are members of
the New Berlin Chamber Orchestra. The
Divertimenti are more than tafelmusik.
They show signs of moving towards the
more dramatic and expressive style that
the symphony attained in Mozart’s hands.
The seven symphonies
included out of Boccherini’s 27 left
me wanting to buy the full set of 8
CDs that are still in Capriccio’s catalogue.
They are by turns witty and imaginative
as in the opening of the Symphony No.15
and beautiful and pastoral as in the
slow movement of the Symphony No.17.
I never found myself thinking this is
just like Mozart or just like Haydn
– it’s all just like Boccherini. Boccherini
however shares Haydn’s sense of humour
viz the splendidly sudden end to Symphony
No.18 which must have left his Berlin
audience surprised. I say Berlin because
he didn’t write everything for his Spanish
royal master but produced a considerable
quantity of music for Crown Prince Friedrich
Wilhelm of Prussia.
The Oboe Quintets are
delightfully elegant and endlessly inventive
but I did find the sound of oboe and
strings tending towards musical wallpaper.
One disc is entitled Opera Con Titoli
and includes his comparatively famous
Quintet G324 La Musica Notturna delle
strade di Madrid an evocation of
street-life which requires free and
imaginative playing from its performers
if it is to make its full impact. The
players here (another pick-up group)
seem too strait-laced and I urge interested
listeners to try out the exciting performance
of this piece by the Stuttgart Chamber
Orchestra on Tacet (Tacet SACD S74 –
oddly entitled The Tube - but
don’t let that put you off). The Notturno
Duet G 62 for two violins is refreshing
partly because two violins are a rare
duet coupling. Boccherini shows the
same originality here as everywhere
else and it is only in the works of
that I have encountered a similar imaginative
use of the combination. Also on this
disc is the String Quintet No.72 G366
entitled Quintetto della Scacciapensiero,
The Jew’s Harp Quintet, in which
Boccherini produces a really weird imitation
of a Jew’s harp. It has to be heard!
The four String Quintets encompass works
for two violins, two violas and one
cello as well as for two violins, one
viola and two cellos. All are quite
serious in tone and certainly not entertainment
music. Boccherini can be heard heading
in Beethoven’s direction rather than
in Haydn’s. Very impressive!
I have left my doubts
until last. These are in the form of
two discs of Guitar Quintets. Given
my enthusiasm for the rest of this box
I do wonder if the Dimov String Quartet
have to take the blame for these works
sounding prosaic. Neither they nor their
guitar soloist Jean-Pierre Jumez sound
very interested in what they are doing
and the recording quality is distinctly
inferior. Nonetheless there is still
fun to be had. The 4th Quintet
G448, for example, ends with a Fandango
in which the quintet becomes a sextet
with the unexpected addition of castanets.
What a pity these performances are so
Overall then a fantastic
bargain which no lover of the classical
period can possibly turn down at this
extraordinarily low price. You may even
feel tempted to invest in more of Capriccio’s
Boccherini issues, such is the quality
of this undervalued classical master.
see also Boccherini
by David Wright