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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Boccherini Edition

String Sextet No.1 in E flat G454; String Sextet No.3 in E G456; String Sextet No.4 in F minor G457; String Sextet No.6 in F G459; String Quartets op.15: Quartet No.1 in D G177; String Quartets op.24: Quartet No.6 in G minor G194; String Quartet in A op.39 G213; String Quartets op.64: Quartet No.1 in F G248; String Quintets op.13: Quintet No.4 in D minor G280; String Quintets op.31: Quintet No.2 in G G326; String Quintets op.60: Quintet No.3 in A G393; String Quintets op.62: Quintet No.5 in D G401; Duet for 2 Violins in E flat 'La bona notte' G62; String Quartet No.4 in G 'La Tiranna' G223; String Quintet No.6 in C 'La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid' G324; String Quintet No.6 in F G336; Oboe Quintets op.55: Quintet No.1 in G G431; Quintet No.3 in D G433; Quintet No.4 in E flat G434; Quintet No.5 in E flat G435; Quintet No.6 in D minor G436; Six Sextets: 'Divertimentos': No.1 in A G461; No.5 in A G465; No.6 in C G466; Symphonies op.37: Symphony No.1 in C G515; Symphony No.3 in D minor G517; Symphony No.4 in A G518; Symphony in C minor op.41 G519. Symphony in D op.42 G520; Symphony in D op.43 G521; Symphony in D minor op.45 G522; Guitar Quintet in D minor G445; Guitar Quintet in E G446; Guitar Quintet in B flat G447; Guitar Quintet in D G448; Guitar Quintet in D G449. Guitar Quintet in G G450.
New Berlin Chamber Orchestra, Petersen Quartet, Parisii Quartet, Dimov Quartet, various soloists. Recordings in collaboration with Sender Freies Berlin, Suddeutscher Rundfunk Stuttgart and Westdeutscher Rundfunk Cologne during the 1990s. DDD
CAPRICCIO CC49463 [10 CDs]
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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 Box!

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 Martinů 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 uninspired.

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.

Dave Billinge


see also Boccherini by David Wright

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