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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Divertimento in A, op.16 no.1, G.461 (1773) [17:01]
Divertimento in A, op.16 no.4, G.464 (1773) [16:04]
Divertimento in A, op.16 no.5, G.465 (1773) [15:20]
Divertimento in A, op.16 no.6, G.466 (1773) [16:25]
Oboe Quintettino in C, op.55 no.1, G.431 (1797) [9:21]
Oboe Quintettino in C, op.55 no.2, G.432 (1797) [9:01]
Oboe Quintettino in C, op.55 no.3, G.433 (1797) [9:41]
Oboe Quintettino in C, op.55 no.4, G.434 (1797) [11:26]
Oboe Quintettino in C, op.55 no.5, G.435 (1797) [10:20]
Oboe Quintettino in C, op.55 no.6, G.436 (1797) [11:58]
ad hoc chamber ensemble (Eckart Haupt (flute); Mi-Kyung Lee (violin I); Silvia Walch (violin II); Diemut Poppen (viola); Ludwig Quandt, Götz Teutsch (cellos); Esko Laine (double bass)) (Divertimenti)
Lajos Lencsés (oboe)) Parisii Quartet (quintettini)
rec. SFB Saal, Berlin, 12-14 June 1992 (Divertimenti); Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart, December 1992 (Quintettini). DDD
PHOENIX EDITION PE472 [64:50 + 61:47]

Experience Classicsonline

As the date makes clear, these are oldish recordings, part of a series of five double-discs reissued in striking covers - paintings by William Oxer - by Austrian label Phoenix. The CDs were originally released separately in 1993 by Capriccio in time for the 250th anniversary of Boccherini's birth. Half a dozen years ago they emerged again, alongside numerous other Quintets and Quartets, in the label's 10-disc boxed set commemorating the 200th anniversary of Boccherini's death - see review.
The first disc showcases four of Boccherini's six Divertimenti. These works were originally published as Sextets, but the chamber ensemble set-up employed here is an alternative apparently sanctioned by Boccherini, who further allowed that the double bass part be omitted where desired; the flute is, however, obbligato. These works go beyond the divertimenti of Mozart and Haydn: they possess the same depth and spirit of imagination as Boccherini's String Sextets (available on PE469), which were written slightly later. Both usually have four movements, two fast and two slow, with a third-movement minuet. The flute effectively replaces one of the two Sextet violas and adds a higher tone colour to the ensemble, very delicately blended, whereas the double bass adds even greater richness to the lower registers. As in the Sextets, Boccherini effortlessly fashions endless melodic invention and stylish, witty virtuosity into elegant, lyrical masterpieces.
Six more musical gems can be found on CD2 in the form of the op.55 Oboe Quintets. These were written a quarter of a century later, but are lighter, brighter works than the Divertimenti. All but one are in two movements only, typically a short minuet finale preceded by a longer fast or slow movement. The oboe may be replaced by a flute, and the set has been recorded at least once as such (review). Boccherini gave instructions to his publisher, Ignaz Pleyel, to 'adjust' the oboe parts if they proved too tricky to sell as Boccherini had written them. The autographs were later lost, meaning that there is no way of knowing whether these works are the altered versions.
Unfortunately, no biographical information on the sterling performers, some of whom appeared on the excellent volume of Sextets, is provided in the German-English booklet. Only a few of the soloists are named on the front cover, one of which is Lajos Lencsés who, according to the French Oboe Association, has made over fifty recordings, the bulk of which have been on Capriccio. Eckart Haupt, former solo flautist for the Staatskapelle Dresden, has also made a fair few recordings in his time, again especially for Capriccio in the Eighties and Nineties, but these days seems to be concentrating on research. The Parisii Quartet formed in Paris in 1984 and have since made numerous recordings, specialising naturally in French repertoire.
Otherwise notes are fairly informative, with basic biographical data on Boccherini identical to other volumes, and a few paragraphs on the Divertimenti and Quintettini. Sound quality is very good, the first CD in particular, and the editing joins that cropped up regularly in the volume of Symphonies (PE460) are here nowhere to be heard.
Boccherini is a composer of considerable originality who was banished to musical purgatory on the ill-informed say-so of early and mid-20th century critics. He deserves to be remembered for so much more than the "celebrated minuet", and this double-disc is a great place for anyone to start an exploration of his magnificent oeuvre.
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