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Hyperion Records

CDA67383 - Boccherini: Cello Quintets, Vol. 2

Recording details: November 2002
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: August 2003
Total duration: 68 minutes 13 seconds


'Beautifully recorded, stylishly played and overflowing with memorable ideas, this is a sheer delight and a must for all fans of 18th-century Classicism' (Classic FM Magazine)

'charming and delectable' [Gramophone]

'I cannot imagine the playing of these quintets being bettered' (Fanfare, USA)

Cello Quintets, Vol. 2
Allegro con moto  [5'57]
Grave  [6'12]
Andante con moto  [5'19]
Allegro assai  [5'39]
Allegro giusto  [5'01]
Allegro moderato  [5'16]
Rondeau: Allegro  [4'25]

The second disc of Boccherini quintets adds to our appreciation of the diversity of inspiration that this eternally attractive and quintessentially classical composer achieved. All are within the confines of a choice of personnel that is both unexpected—the string quartet with extra cello—but also very personal, since the principal cello part was to be played by the composer himself and was designed, on some occasions, to be partnered by his royal patron, the cello-playing Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia! Well might we try to imagine the exciting impression they made when this spirited music was first heard and something of this thrill is vividly recreated by Richard Lester as extra cellist with the Vanburgh Quartet. Gramophone magazine noted a touch of the impetuous in Lester's Boccherini double cello sonata disc (CDH55219), an adjective that perfectly expresses the relish and verve there must have been at those first occasions.

Boccherini wrote over 100 such works. Their quantity has served to hide their quality and while it took relatively little time for the music of Vivaldi to be discovered afresh, the music of Boccherini is only now receiving the attention it deserves. This disc fulfills an important role in that exciting process.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
To our knowledge none of the works on this CD has ever been recorded, except for the Andante con moto of Quintet in C major Op 42 No 2 (G349) and the last movement of Quintet in C major Op 28 No 4 (G310): the comical rondeau and joy of all young cellists. These two can be found elsewhere ‘living in sin’ with movements from other quintets by Luigi Boccherini published in an edition by Johannes Lauterbach. Of the 110 Boccherini quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos, only around thirty have ever been recorded and sixteen have never been published. Luigi Boccherini’s minuet (G275, on Hyperion CDA67287), used notoriously in the classic 1950s film The Ladykillers, is an example, as with Vivaldi and his Four Seasons, where both composers, through a mere ‘sound-bite’ of their whole output, achieved posthumous recognition. In Vivaldi’s case this recognition has lead to a celebration and an ongoing discovery of the rest of his vast output. For Boccherini this is only just beginning. Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) was never bound by the conventions of the classical sonata form as adopted by his contemporaries Mozart and Haydn. His formal designs differed. Ellen Amsterdam puts it succinctly:

While in the music of Haydn, Mozart and, later, Beethoven, one experiences organic growth of the subject matter, in Boccherini the effect is that of a musical still-life, complete and perfect all at once. (Ellen Amsterdam: The String Quintets of Luigi Boccherini, University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1968 p 82.)

A Boccherini trio, following a minuet, serves as a laboratory for surprising experiments. In the trio of G348 (also on Hyperion CDA67287) the curious stracinando effect is used throughout the trio in all five parts. Stracinando (sometimes stracinato) means literally ‘dragging’ the bow.

Ellen Amsterdam tells us:

The strange indication stracinato is fairly common in Boccherini’s quintets. Now obsolete, it is very likely related to the Italian ‘strascinare’ (to drag or pull along). Stracinato often appears near cadences and with the dynamic marking p or pp and it is occasionally accompanied by the indication sul ponticello … [in such passages] there is a noticeable absence of additional articulation markings (slurs, staccato). This evidence suggests the possibility that the term refers to a slowing of the tempo and of the speed of the bow. (page 68)

Some may complain of an over-repetition of ideas by Boccherini while at the same time failing to absorb the textural depth and colour of the music. Repetition in Boccherini is a hallmark and a holistic acknowledgment by the composer of the performative nature of his audience and musicians as one. Typically, he may repeat a phrase three times, in contrast to Mozart or Haydn’s two. This further repetition challenges both his performers and his audience to join in a collective performance; as it were, to sing along with the refrain. Mozart could from time to time deliver a dull minuet, yet Boccherini’s minuets capture an eighteenth-century sensibilité with the sensitivity of a dancer: an innate genetic impulse maybe, given that three of Boccherini’s four siblings, two of three sisters and brother, were ballet dancers. The music is full of what Elisabeth Le Guin calls ‘The unexpected richness of the everyday’.

From Italy to Spain
After touring Italy and France together in the 1760s, Boccherini and violinist Fillipo Manfredi stopped in Paris where Boccherini’s Op 2 quartets had already been published. They were well received by the Concert Spirituel and had planned to visit London, but instead in 1769 were attracted by an invitation to Madrid by the Spanish ambassador to Paris and a promise of security at the Spanish court: an irresistible proposition for a musician of the eighteenth century. Once introduced to the main court, Boccherini was not favoured by the King of Spain but by his brother the Infante Don Luis de Borbón and remained under his patronage for nine years, sharing his exile in Arenas de San Pedro, about 200km distant from the capital, with the prince’s court until the Infante’s death in 1785. The bon vivant prince, having married a woman of lower rank (thirty years his junior, and thus apparently threatening the crown of his brother Carlos III with genetic contamination), was banished from Madrid. The court in exile was an informal affair, far from the centres of activity of London, Paris and Vienna. It was from here that Boccherini attempted to contact Haydn, then in Esterhazy, via their mutual publisher Artaria. Both composers during this time felt isolated and, as Haydn put it, ‘in the swamps’. Wishes of mutual admiration were exchanged via Artaria, but Haydn admitted to not being able to find Arenas on a map!

The quintets would have been played by Boccherini himself along with the Font family quartet (father and three sons) who were employed by Don Luis de Borbón at Arenas. This in-house ensemble was the reason Boccherini was obliged to write so many quintets with two cellos and why the quintets are so central to his oeuvre.

In 1785 Boccherini’s patron prince died, followed tragically in the same year by Boccherini’s wife, the singer Clementina Pelicha. King Carlos III had died but Boccherini, left with six children, was fortunate to be retained on a pension by his successor Carlos IV and also found employment from the Countess of Osuna whose salon was frequented by many notables passing through Madrid. Even timelier was his appointment by Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia as Compostor di Camara in 1787. Long admired by the cellist prince-made-king, Boccherini now composed from Spain specifically for the Prussian court. Boccherini’s whereabouts are not recorded during this period of nine years (1787-1796). Some commentators have suggested that he may have visited his new patron Friedrich Wilhelm II in Potsdam or Berlin. Whether or not this is true, he continued to compose quintets for the Prussian court throughout this time. Perhaps during these politically volatile days of the French Revolution he felt the need to keep his head down in Madrid, and as far away from a guillotine as possible. In any case, it was a more stable period of his life, and it was with three sources of income that in 1787 he married for the second time.

Boccherini stopped composing quintets with two cellos in 1795, ten years before his death. During periods of deteriorating health he made arrangements of them for guitar quintet and piano quintet, which he dedicated to Lucien Bonaparte and to the French nation. At the same time he sold off his ‘old stock’ of compositions to Pleyel, who rearranged and renumbered them as he saw fit. Recent scholarship has questioned the picture of an impoverished genius languishing in a lonely garret; according to Jaime Tortella there was a substantial amount of money in Boccherini’s bank account in the years leading to his death, and he was known also to have owned two Stradivari cellos. Nevertheless, in 1805 Boccherini died alone in a modest apartment in Madrid and was soon forgotten.

Keith Pascoe © 2003

Other albums in this series
'Boccherini: Cello Quintets, Vol. 1' (CDA67287)
Boccherini: Cello Quintets, Vol. 1
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