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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743–1805)
Quartet in G minor Op. 24, no.6 (G194) (1777) [16:37]
Stabat Mater (G194) (1781) [42:26] *
Sophie Karthauser (soprano)*
Les Folies Françoises (Patrick Cohën-Akenine (violin), Leonor de Recondo (violin), Michel Renard (viola), François Poly (cello), Hervé Douchy (cello))
rec. May 2005, Church of Saint-Apollinaire, Bolland
RICERCAR RIC 244 [59:03]

In November 1770, Infante Don Luis, the younger brother of King Charles IV of Spain, engaged Boccherini as his chamber musician and composer. Don Luis was a rather eccentric and dissipated character whose interests included coin collecting and exotic birds.
Boccherini’s Op. 11 quintets (with two cellos) were some of the first fruits of this engagement, where the composer played with the quartet made up by the Font family who were already in the Infante’s service.
Infante Don Luis married in 1776. Shortly after, the bride and bridegroom were installed at a small court in the town of Las Arenas de San Pedro. This retirement was necessary because his wife, though noble, was not of Royal blood and could not be received at Court. Inevitably, in this semi-exile music played an important part in their life. Boccherini’s Quartet Op, 24 dates from this period. It is a charming work, which receives a gracious performance from Les Folies Francoises.
Les Folies Francoises is a French ensemble, formed in 2000 by Patrick Cohen-Akenine. The group is able to shift from chamber ensemble to orchestra according to need and they explore the vast range of 17th and 18th century instrumental and vocal music.
They respond admirably to the civilised balance in Boccherini’s music, producing a well-modulated and gracious performance. Occasionally I could have wished for more of a sense of depth and drama, but Boccherini would, I think, have appreciated their civilised poise.
In 1781 Infante Don Luis commissioned Boccherini to write a Stabat Mater for soprano and five-part string ensemble. No information about the premiere has come down to us, so we can only speculate about how it was first performed. Les Folies Francoises have chosen to perform it as a chamber piece, with soprano and one instrument to a part.
The result is charmingly intimate and mellifluously moving. Soprano Sophie Karthauser has a light, attractively focused voice which is on the same scale as the accompaniment. The piece is in eleven movements and sets the complete text of the poem. Boccherini mixes recitative, free arioso and full-scale, quasi-operatic arias to -create an attractive work. It is a civilised meditation on the meaning of the poem rather than an exploration of the dark themes that could be found within.
Though there are superficial links with such works as Haydn’s Seven Last Words, Boccherini seems content to omit real darkness and pain. The performance, though admirable and gently moving, could perhaps be a little more intense and more muscular. It is here that the decision to perform the work in chamber form affects the sound-world of the resulting performance.
Boccherini went on to adapt the work for two sopranos, and tenor and it was published in this form in 1801.
Boccherini’s vocal music is not particularly well known and this disc sheds an interesting light on his Spanish episode. If the performances don’t completely plumb the depths of the works, they display a fine musicality and balance, which can’t be bad.
Robert Hugill



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