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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Cello Sonatas: in C major, G. 74 [13:59]; in G major, G. 5 [13:00]; in C minor* [13:14]
Giacomo FACCO (1676-1753)

Balletto No. 3 in C major for two cellos* (c. 1723) [07:26]
Domenico PORRETTI (d. 1783)

Cello Sonata in D major* [19: 04]
Pablo VIDAL (d. 1808)

Andante Gracioso* [05:18]
Arpegio Armonico: Josep Bassal (cello); Wolfgang Lehner (cello);
Première recordings*
rec. L’Auditorium, Gerona, Spain, 29-30 December 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557795 [72:02]

Naxos have released a recording of six cello scores mainly from the classical era. They are by Boccherini, two of his close contemporaries and a late-baroque composer. The works are all inspired by or composed for the Spanish court and wealthy Spanish patrons. Fascinatingly four of the six works are world première recordings.

Italian-born Boccherini was one of the most prolific classical composers of his time, a true cosmopolitan, having lived in many of Europe’s major cities: Milan, Madrid, London, Berlin and Amsterdam. In his day he was principally celebrated as a virtuoso cellist although he enjoyed a reputation for his facility as a prolific composer, leaving some 460 or so compositions. His artistic gifts and pioneering talent are often overlooked as a throwback to the late-baroque period of the Italian school. In fact his style is completely characteristic of the period in which he lived, the period, that is, of Haydn, rather than that of Mozart or Beethoven. As a direct contemporary of Haydn and Mozart the creative claims of Boccherini have undoubtedly been overshadowed by their enduring fame.

As a cellist of considerable repute a great deal of his music is designed to exploit the technical resources of the cello. It was his favoured solo instrument in twelve concertos, thirty-two sonatas, and, particularly, in chamber music, including a remarkable series of works for string quintet with two cellos, the first of which is given a concertante part.

Boccherini is at his most descriptive in the extended central movement Allegro alla Militaire of his G major Cello Sonata, with its eighteenth-century battle, its ordered battalions, drum-rolls and the battlefield itself. The work is a remarkable achievement and is performed with expression and exuberance by Bassal and Lehner. The contrasting moods of the C major Cello Sonata are also impressive, although the opening movement seems a touch overlong for its material. A splendid performance here, especially in the meditative largo and the waltz-like rhythms of the concluding movement allegro. The recently discovered Cello Sonata in C minor shows the influence of Spain, with a final movement allegretto suggesting a Spanish dance. I could detect tuning problems in the playing and the interpretation was not a success, with the opening movement largo somewhat lacking in vigour, the adagio taken too tentatively and the lively allegretto needed more spirited playing.

Giacomo Facco, the late-baroque composer, keyboard-player, violinist and cellist was one of the many Italian musicians working in the eighteenth century at the Spanish court. He served as a member of the Capilla Real and taught the children of Don Luis and Don Carlos, the future King Luis I and King Carlos III. The Balletto for two cellos are the first works for cello that are known to have been written in Spain and unusually the two cellos are treated as one voice. The performances by Bassal and Lehner, seem rather laboured in the preludio and gloomy in the sarabanda. However, their allemande and the gavotta shows an distinct improvement.

Domenico Porretti was the father of Joaquina, Boccherini’s second wife. A cellist in the Capilla Real between 1734 and 1783, Porretti enjoyed a considerable reputation as a player and was much admired by Farinelli, the legendary castrato. He seems to have written as many as 24 cello concertos and a work for four cellos mentioned by Padre Antonio Soler, the whereabouts of all of which are unknown. The substantial D major Sonata included here was published very recently and was found in the collection of scores at the castle of Schönborn-Wiesentheit in Germany. The soloist is in fine form throughout the D major Sonata, dextrous in the richly lyrical opening allegro and admirably vivacious in the concluding allegro.

Pablo Vidal was first cellist at the Convent of the Incarnation and of the Duke of Osuna, serving in the Casa de Osuna orchestra directed by Boccherini and living in Madrid. There is relatively little information about him although it is known that in September 1798 he announced in the Gaceta a short work called Arpegio Armónico de violonchelo y bajo (Harmonic Arpeggio for Cello and Bass), the source of the present work Andante Gracioso. The Andante Gracioso is a tuneful and attractive little score but in truth the performance here is rather dismal.

It is a shame that we are not informed which of the two cellists of Arpegio Armonico is playing on which score. The Naxos engineers have done a decent job on the sound quality and the booklet notes are interesting and reasonably informative.

This is a fine release of rare and interesting repertoire that will appeal to lovers of the cello.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Tim Perry



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