The Arts label originally released this recording on a standard stereo disc in 2006. It doesn’t seem to have raised a storm of opinion one way or another judging by the lack of online comment, though the company clearly felt it was of sufficient commercial worth to give us an SACD mastering and a re-packaged look.
The four examples here are among the more popular of Boccherini’s cello concertos, though decent modern recordings of these pieces are not as thick on the ground as some other string concertos. Luigi Boccherini was a cellist himself, and excelled in the kinds of chamber music which were bread and butter to amateurs and professionals alike in the 18th century. His rather straightforward diatonic style fell out of favour when European music was undergoing the turbulent transitions between chromatic romanticism and the tug-of-war which happened at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Beached on the more relaxed shores of the 21st century we can play these pieces loud over the car stereo on a hot day and stand out as cool and dandy – or at least, kid ourselves, we’re giving this impression while enjoying uncomplicated but beautifully crafted compositions and some highly skilled performances.
I wasn’t immediately bowled over by this recording. The acoustic in which the musicians are working isn’t particularly rich, though the sonorities of the Bozen Academy band are. Georg Egger has a good ear for sensitive phrasing, and I have no complaints about the accompaniments. I don’t have many complaints about Wen-Sinn Yang either. His cello is recorded rather unrealistically forward, though this is something to which the ear can become accustomed. This aspect of the recording does however make the experience a little more demanding than bubble-bath listeners might prefer, and this is more for serious listening than as consumer fluff. The SACD effect seems to emphasise a soloist acoustically rather disembodied from the rest of the ensemble, at least, it does on my equipment. Yang has a nicely resonant tone which can stand up-close and personal scrutiny, though the cruel exposure of the balance does occasionally show up one or two bowing blemishes. There are also a couple of moments earlier on in the programme where the accuracy in intonation is a little ‘on the edge’ of the note rather than stock secure in the middle. These are in places where the technical demands are at their most virtuosic, and gorgeous slow movements such as the marvellous Adagio of the Cello Concerto No.3 G.480 are done very nicely. The overall impression is not one of strife and striving, and being picky on small details doesn’t do justice to what are in general very fine performances. Yang has written his own cadences for most of these concertos, and while I cannot confess to great expertise on the subject all of these moments sound nicely fresh, occasionally toothsomely adventurous, and always idiomatically well suited to the surrounding material.
This is the kind of disc which grows on you as you take greater involvement in what is going on. With such a delicious bed of sound on which to develop his solo line, Wen-Sinn Yang responds with fine delicacy to the thematic morsels which Boccherini so delicately serves up. The technical tricks of double-stopping and the higher melodic range often used are taken effortlessly and with a fine range of rhythmic emphasis and articulation. It’s all done well in proportion and with respect for the composer’s language, without stuffing a particular message in terms of performance practice down our throats. People looking for the complete set of 12 cello concertos by Boccherini need look no further than those conducted by Nicholas Ward on the budget Naxos label, which is of a consistently high standard even though the soloist changes two-thirds of the way through. For an audiophile single disc of some of the most well known concertos this Arts disc is a fine item to have around. Take Boccherini’s charm and the present musicians’ skill at face value, and this is a disc which won’t disappoint.