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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Sonata in C major for cello and continuo, G. 74 [13:59]
Sonata in G major for cello and continuo, G. 5 [13:00]
Sonata in C minor for cello and continuo [13:14]
Giacomo FACCO (1676-1753)
Balletto No.3 in C major for two cellos (c. 1723) [7:26]
Domenico PORRETTI (d. 1783)

Sonata in D major for cello and continuo [19:04]
Pablo VIDAL (d. 1808)

Andante Gracioso for cello and continuo (c. 1798) [5:18]
Josep Bassal (cello)
Wolfgang Lehner (cello)
rec. L'Auditorium, Gerona, Spain, 29-30 December 2004, DDD
NAXOS 8.557795 [72:04]

Although billed as a disc of Boccherini's cello sonatas, this disc is not quite what it seems. Boccherini wrote more than thirty-two sonatas for cello and only three of them appear here. The rest of the playing time is made up by compositions for cello by some of Boccherini’s contemporaries at the Spanish court. These are arranged chronologically around Boccherini's three sonatas, so that the recital gives the listener an insight into the progress of music for cello in Spain during the 18th century. With the exception of Boccherini's Sonata in C major and Sonata in G major, all of the works appear here in world premiere recordings.

The program begins with Facco's Balletto No.3, a brief but pleasant dance suite in the baroque style, which concludes with a lively gavotte. Like Porretti and Boccherini after him, Facco was an Italian composer who found employment in Spain. According to the booklet notes, his six suites for two cellos are the earliest known compositions for cello written in Spain. The suite is the only work on the disc to give both cellos an equal role. In the rest of the program the second cello plays second fiddle, so to speak, providing the continuo accompaniment.

Porretti was a cellist in the Capilla Real from 1734 and became Boccherini's father-in-law on the latter's second marriage. His Sonata in D major was only discovered and published recently. It is noticeably the product of the early classical period, with long lyrical phrases and a twinkle of humour. The first movement andante is complimented by a second movement allegro based on the same thematic material. A brief, soulful adagio third movement is then followed by an equally brief but light allegro finale.

The main attraction of the disc, however, are the three Boccherini sonatas. The Sonata in C major immediately shows the composer's confidence with his instrument. The solo cello writing has a more fluid quality than Porretti’s, and Boccherini makes greater use of double stopping and the full compass of the cello's range. The Sonata in G major opens with a beautiful largo (played here as more of an adagio) which ventures into the solo cello's upper register; the intonation of the lead cello is not always perfect here. The second movement allegro alla militaire has a military bearing reminiscent of Haydn's more martial compositions. While tastefully performed, Bassal and Lehner could have given this movement more crisp energy. The concluding menuetto is played with a nice sense of pulse. The previously unrecorded Sonata in C minor is a charming work, with subtle shading of mood. The final movement sounds a little studied and does not really take off as it might, but the performance is otherwise well nuanced.

Vidal played under Boccherini's direction in the Casa de Osuna orchestra and his short Andante Gracioso shows Boccherini's influence. It deserves its place as an encore as the only item in this program of Spanish cello music actually composed by a Spaniard. However, its melancholy tone gives the disc a ruminative rather than a bright conclusion, which would have been more in keeping with the feel of the disc as a whole. This is an observation rather than a criticism.

Throughout Bassal and Lehner play with taste and refinement, and the reservations noted above are minor. Theirs is a genteel view of the repertoire, and though others may give the music more thrust and excitement, their playing remains satisfying. The continuo accompaniment is also generally well pointed. My one quibble is that a cello continuo accompaniment to music for solo cello, while perfectly valid, lacks the contrast in tone and colour that a harpsichord continuo, for example, could have contributed. However, as this disc would probably not have been recorded at all but for Bassal's and Lehner's dedication to Spanish cello music, this complaint is perhaps ungracious. In any case, rival versions of this program are not likely to appear any time soon, and lovers of 18th century chamber music can buy this disc with confidence.

Tim Perry

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