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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805) Six String Quartets Op. 15 (1772)
Quartet No. 1 in D major G.177 [8:06]
Quartet No. 2 in F major G.178 [10:59]
Quartet No. 3 in E major G.179 [9:23]
Quartet No. 4 in F major G.180 [8:56]
Quartet No. 5 in E flat major G.181 [10:22]
Quartet No. 6 in C minor G.182 [8:09]
Alea Ensemble (Andrea Rognoni, Fiorenza De Donatis (violin); Stefano Marcocchi (viola); Marco Frezzato (cello))
rec. 27-29 December 2010, Auditorium RSI, Lugano, Switzerland DYNAMIC CDS7704 [56:01]
Luigi Boccherini has long been recognised as one of the founders and leading exponents of the string quartet genre, even though his various collections have always been overshadowed by those of his contemporary Haydn. Boccherini’s Opp. 2, 8, 9, 24, 32 and 58 are known, if not available in masses of different recordings. The Op. 15 set has lacked a complete score edition which would have made it more accessible to performers. While the occasional Op. 15 quartet has popped up this recording represents the premiere of Giuliano Castellani’s complete critical edition of a series of quartets which was pivotal in the development of Boccherini’s quartet writing.
The op. 15 set is technically less demanding than some of the other opus numbers, which would have been aimed at the likes of Boccherini’s own more professional ‘Tuscan Quartet’. These pieces are approachable by amateurs, but as can be heard from the outset they would have provided a high level of musical satisfaction for both players and audiences alike. There is plenty of surprise both melodically and harmonically, and the Alea Ensemble ably demonstrates how crucial the dynamic contrasts and effects are when getting the most out of the music.
The Alea Ensemble is positioned within early music interpretation, so you can expect the more intimate, slightly thinner sound of gut strings and very sparing use of vibrato. The result is a transparent, frequently pastoral sound which suits the direct nature of this music very well indeed. Expressive moments can be leant on and resolved within the proportions of the whole without treading on the toes of later composers. We can never know exactly how these works would have sounded in their day, but I can imagine Boccherini smiling at the familiarity of his notes, and revelling in the skill and affection with which they are played in this nicely atmospheric recording.
Technical virtuosity might not be such a priority in these works, but have a listen to the Prestissimo second movement of the Quartet No. 3 and you will hear plenty of fun and high jinks. Each of these quartets is divided into two movements, and the compact nature of each piece makes for an easy listen. There is plenty of contrast, witnessed by the lovely pizzicato accompaniment to the Minuetto of G.180, which surrounds a deliciously secretive and trilling trio section.
Without going on at great length this is the kind of disc which every fan of Haydn’s string quartets should have, not only as a reminder of other composers who were creating works of equal attractiveness in this genre, but for the sheer pleasure of discovery of such delightful music in its own right.