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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Cello Sonata No.1 in A, G13* [12:35]
Cello Sonata No.6 in A, G4* [16:10]
Cello Sonata No.2 in C, G2* [15:43]
Giovanni Battista CIRRI (1724-1808)
Cello Sonata in g minor, Op.15/5 [12:16]
Cello Sonata in F, Op.15/3 [10:48]
Cello Sonata in A, Op.15/4 [10:15]
Catherine Jones (cello by Robert Thompson, London, 1752)
Alison McGilvray (cello from workshop of Norman and Cross, 1715)
Giulia Nuti (harpsichord)
William Carter (archlute and baroque guitar)
* cadenzas by Catherine Jones
rec. 12-14 November 2013, Villa San Franco, Lonigo, Italy. DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88875013182 [77:49]

Excerpt on YouTube or Vimeo.

Boccherini and the cello are practically synonymous and we were not short of recordings of his concertos and sonatas for the instrument.  My benchmark comes in the form of a super-budget-price recording on the Hyperion Helios label, CDH55219 [66:26], with Richard Lester and David Watkin on cello and Chi-Chi Nwanoku on double bass – review.  That recording can be yours for Ł6.50 or less on CD or Ł5.99 as an mp3 or lossless download from hyperion-records.co.uk.

Both recordings are historically informed.  We have the details of the dates of the cellos employed on DHM; though no details are given of the instruments on Hyperion and the sole photograph shows only the top of Richard Lester’s instrument, we do know that gut strings and baroque bows were used. 

There are some important differences between these two recordings.  The Hyperion employs the double bass as the second instrument in some of the sonatas, G2 and G565.  The Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (DHM) includes Catherine Jones’ own stylish and quite lengthy cadenzas, uses the archlute or guitar in some works, making for greater variety, and adds the three much rarer sonatas by Giovanni Battista Cirri, so it’s apparent that each recording has its own USP.  The unobtrusive use of the guitar seems justifiable in the case of a composer who spent a large part of his working life in Spain.

The Hyperion performances are derived from a manuscript source in Milan, believed to be Boccherini’s youthful autograph; the DHM is presumably taken from the printed editions, so that the two sonatas common to both collections, G2 and G4 are quite different entities, effectively separate works, especially with Catherine Jones’ cadenzas.  Those familiar with the way in which a pastiche of Boccherini’s work by Friedrich Grützmacher was long performed as the Boccherini B flat Cello Concerto, even preferred by Jacqueline Du Pré to the real thing, will not be surprised. Both recordings are well worth seeking out.

Whereas on Hyperion we have five sonatas, only three feature on DHM and the programme is completed with music by Giovanni Battista Cirri.  There isn’t much music by Cirri in the catalogue: only one recording is devoted entirely to him, containing the six cello concertos, Op.14, and that’s download only in the UK (Hungaroton HCD32125/26, 2 CDs: Balász Maté (cello) with Aura Musicale on period instruments).  There’s also a Tactus recording of sonatas for one, two and three cellos and continuo on which Cirri’s sonatas Op.1/1 and 3 are coupled with music by Giacobbe Basevi ‘Cervetto’, Giovanni Martini and Martin Bertau (TC680001).  Stream or sample from Naxos Music Library or Qobuz.

Not having knowingly heard anything by Cirri before, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying his sonatas as much as the Boccherini and hoping that someone would give us more of his music in the near future.  That’s an obvious tribute to the quality of the performances of all the music here – stylish and persuasive, especially from Catherine Jones, who is well supported by the other performers and by a very good recording.  A few noises-off – from concentrated breathing? – are apparent, especially with headphones, but not too distracting.

Given the quality of performance and recording I’m surprised to see that the CD appears not to be widely available in the UK and US.  Amazon UK offer it only as an expensive import or as a download and many other dealers don’t stock it at all.  It deserves wider availability.  It can be sampled from Qobuz.  With so much excellent back-catalogue DHM material unavailable it’s a great shame when even new recordings of this high quality are hard to come by.

Somebody at Deutsche Harmonia Mundi can’t add up: the back cover gives the total time as 67:08, the booklet as 68:36.  It’s actually 77:49 or 77:51 and track 15 runs for 4:19, not 6:13 as stated.  Some proof-reading of the booklet would not have come amiss in the case of the mis-placed apostrophe in “Boccherini pushes the [cello] to it’s technical limits” (p.5) Otherwise, I enjoyed reading Catherine Jones’ notes.

The addition of the unfairly neglected Cirri works make this recording particularly worthwhile but I also enjoyed hearing these performances of the three Boccherini sonatas.

Brian Wilson

An enjoyable recording made all the more so by the addition of the little-known Cirri works.