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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
String Sextets - Works with Titles
String Sextet in F minor, G.457, op.23 no.4 (1776) [14:27]
String Sextet in E flat, G.454, op.23 no.1 (1776) [17:00]
String Sextet in F, G.459, op.23 no.6 (1776) [15:36]
String Sextet in E, G.456, op.23 no.3 (1776) [14:07]
*String Quintet in C, G.324, op.30 no.6 'La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid' [11:52]
*String Quartet in G, G.223, op.44 no.4 'La Tiranna' [11:17]
*Notturno, for two violins, in E flat, G.62 'La Bona Notte' [13:27]
*String Quintet in F, G.336, op.36 no.6 'dello Scacciapensiero' [11:42]
Mayumi Seiler (violin I); Iris Juda, *Silvia Walch (violin II); Diemut Poppen, Werner Dickel (violas I, II); Richard Lester, Howard Penny (cellos I, II)
rec. SFB, Berlin, 23-26 February 1993; Siemensvilla, Berlin, 13-16 January 1992 (Sextets). DDD
PHOENIX EDITION PE469 [61:10 + 48:18]

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, following their recent C.P.E. Bach Edition. The CDs were originally released separately in 1992 by Capriccio in time for the 250th anniversary of Boccherini's birth; the label then re-issued them as a double-disc set in 2002. Three years later they appeared again, alongside numerous other Quartets and Quintets, 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 String Sextets, among his finest works, and among the finest - and earliest - of the genre. If ever proof was needed that Boccherini was no poor country cousin to his contemporary celebrities, Haydn and Mozart, it can be found here in these miraculously inventive, sonorous works, beautifully played by the three pairs of soloists. Boccherini delightfully blends dignity, pensiveness, ebullience and wit. The pauses in the finale of op.23 no.6 are very funny, straight out of Haydn's Guide to Keeping Audiences on their Toes. Why it took eighty years for Brahms's op.18 to make the string sextet popular is one of the great mysteries of the 19th century.
These were the first recordings of the Sextets, and astonishingly there still seems to be no complete recording available. For a complete set of op.23, the listener must turn to the excellent Ensemble 415, who recorded nos. 1, 2 and 5 for Harmonia Mundi, released about a year after the original Capriccio (HMC 901478).
The very short playing time of the second CD can be overlooked for the quality of the music it does contain. Here are the 'Opera con Tituli' ('Works with Titles') of the rather confusing cover splash: not Sextets with titles, but two Quintets, a Quartet and a Duo. Boccherini's bell-evoking introduction to his incredible G.324 Quintet was unprecedented in its modernity, and the work continues in similar vein, a still freshly imaginative, Biberian tour de force of colour, effect and atmosphere - enhanced all the more by Boccherini's scoring for two cellos - that evokes 'La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid', played with considerable elegance and responsiveness by the soloists. How absurd of Boccherini to suppose that "Outside Spain this piece is totally useless and even ridiculous"!
The remaining three beautifully-proportioned works, all lyrical masterpieces showing also a more reflective, wistful Boccherini, only underscore the fact that this is a composer of considerable genius in his prime, banished to musical purgatory on the ill-informed say-so of early and mid 20th century critics. Boccherini's imitation of a jew's harp in the final Quintet betokens a striking originality that deserves to be remembered for so much more than the "celebrated minuet".
Alas, no biographical information on the sterling performers - not even a photo - is provided in the German-English booklet. Of the seven soloists, strangely only four are named on the front cover. Otherwise notes are fairly informative, if scant with regard to the Sextets. Sound quality is very good - bettering many recent recordings - and the editing joins that cropped up regularly in the volume of Symphonies (PE460), are here nowhere to be heard.
In sum, this is a must-have album for all lovers of beautiful music.
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