Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Guitar Quintets: No. 1 in D [22:14]; No. 2 in E [19:00]; No. 3 in B flat [23:48]; No. 4 in D ďFandangoĒ [18:23]; No. 5 in D [21:01]; No. 6 in G [16:15]
Jean-Pierre Dumez (guitar)
Dimov String Quartet
rec. no details supplied
PHOENIX EDITION PE466 [65:52 + 56:34]
 
If youíre anything like me then youíll have heard of Boccherini and youíll have heard a little of his music, but heíll mostly be a blank for you. He was well renowned in his day, serving at the royal courts of Vienna and Madrid, but his reputation has suffered since, not least because he was composing at the same time as his (indisputably greater) contemporaries Haydn and Mozart. I came to this disc with an open mind, hoping to be wowed and won over by some music that had been unjustly neglected. In the end, though, I found it diverting but rather bland in places and not an especially satisfying experience on the whole.
 
When I saw the title of this disc I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a string quartet playing with guitar, but my first problem is that Boccherini doesnít do anything particularly interesting with the combination. More often than not itís a string quartet playing, with a barely audible guitar somewhere in the background. On the occasions when the guitar does come to the fore, such as in the fourth quintet, the results are very pleasing. The quintets were all written as a homage to Spain, the composerís adoptive home, and this quintet has a more Spanish tinge than most of the others; itís even nicknamed the ďFandangoĒ after the lively dance in the finale. It has an airy first movement, relaxed and atmospheric, evocative to me of a hot Spanish afternoon. The finale is a toe-tapping dance which is engaging and energetic. The guitar really takes off here, which is the key to the workís success. The inspiration drops in the slow movement, however, which is too often self-conscious, insistent and repetitious, to my ears at least. Iím afraid it was this rather pedestrian quality that I noticed again and again as I listened to this set. The D minor quintet (No. 1) is refined but a little strait-jacketed, showcasing the sort of thing that hasnít won Boccherini many modern fans. The minor key of the music is austere in its own way, but it completely lacks the genuine drama that, say, Haydn or Mozart would have invested in a D minor work. The slow movement sounds bland and a little disengaged, followed by a genial - dare I say, harmless?- Minuet and a finale which is busy without grabbing the attention too much. The E major quintet (No. 2) is also rather self-conscious, as if looking at itself in the mirror and insisting to the listener how fine it is. I, on the other hand, found it a little wearying and it didnít hold my attention, though the sheer pomposity of the third movement is diverting for a few minutes.
 
Not everything is like this, however: I liked the smiling warmth of the D major quintet (No. 5) with its genteel first movement which then returns as the subject of variations in the finale. I quite enjoyed the B flat bustle of No. 3. Too much of the music is really quite forgettable, though, and I think that, if I return to this set, it will probably be as background music for a dinner party rather than something to concentrate on in a sitting.
 
None of this is to cast any aspersions on the playing, which is warm, loving and accurate. Itís a little bland at times though, to be fair to the Dimovs, they arenít given much to go on. This is a set that is probably for die-hard classicists only.
 
Simon Thompson
 
For die-hard classicists only.