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Hyperion Records

CDA67646 - Boccherini: Flute Quintets Op 19
The Rehearsal (detail) by Etienne Jeaurat (1699-1789)
Private Collection. Copyright Gavin Graham Gallery, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67646
Recording details: April 2007
Oratorio di S Domenico, Pisa, Italy
Produced by Sigrid Lee
Engineered by Roberto Meo
Release date: March 2008
Total duration: 68 minutes 35 seconds

'These are delightful works played with a persuasively affectionate period-instrument style, with a felicitous lead from the nimble and gently expressive flautist, Carlo Ipata. Hyperion do the players proud in their debut recording; we shall surely hear more of them' (Gramophone)

'These are enjoyable performances. No 4 is particularly attractive, with its beautifully paced Adagio assai, lyrical flute and virtuoso cello playing' (Early Music Review)

'Listening to these six quintets, one is immediately captivated by a charm and invention that, while of a different nature, easily equals that of Haydn or Mozart … the playing is exceptional … beautifully recorded in the Oratorio di S Domenico, Pisa, this is an auspicious debut for Auser Musici on Hyperion. Further recordings are planned—let's hope we don't have to wait too long for them' (International Record Review)

'I was pleasantly surprised with this disc. The music is typical Boccherini, charming and with a certain amount of energy … but the performances by Auser Musici flow beautifully. They have both inner energy and a smile' (Fanfare, USA)

'Finest of all is the opening Allegro of the G minor Quintet, a movement of tensely swirling, surging passions. The Italian ensemble Auser Musici … capture admirably the spirit of Boccherini's multi-faceted world' (Goldberg)

Flute Quintets Op 19
Allegro con moto  [6'11]
Minuè  [3'58]
Rondeau grazioso  [6'35]
Adagio assai  [6'53]
Allegro moderato  [8'21]
Presto assai  [3'06]
Galope  [3'38]

Auser Musici is a vocal and instrumental ensemble which, taking its name from an antique river in the plain of Pisa, brings together instrumentalists and singers with an international reputation for historical performance practice. This is their first recording for Hyperion and future recordings are planned, including discs of music by Lidarti and Porpora.

This first disc of Boccherini’s flute quintets is very much the fruit of their own advanced research into lesser-known chamber works by the composer. The six Op 19 quintets cover a wide range of character and display all the resources, technical as well as expressive, common in the composer’s major works. Boccherini writes virtuoso parts for all instruments, including the cello, and the flute writing recalls his masterly use of the instrument in the orchestration of his symphonies.


In Boccherini’s music wind instruments do not usually play a central role; nevertheless, the masterly use of the oboe, flute and horn in the orchestration of his symphonies, together with a handful of relevant chamber pieces, leads us to investigate carefully this particular aspect of his output. Regarding the flute, a good example of how Boccherini understood its character and capabilities is found in the Trio section of the Minuet in the Symphony in B flat Op 12 No 5, part of the same 1771 collection as the celebrated ‘La Casa del Diavolo’. Two years later, in 1773, Boccherini’s relationship with the flute was to reach its peak, with the Divertimenti Op 16 (published in Paris in 1775 by La Chevardière as Op 15), whose brilliant writing is a clear indication that at this time the composer had a skilful player at his disposal. According to the titles of both the autograph and the first edition, the Divertimenti were expressly composed for Boccherini’s Spanish patron Don Luis, at whose court he had been working since 1770, even though we know nothing about a possible flute player working there. Alternatively such a musician might well have been found at the King’s court.

Between 1773 and 1774 Boccherini devoted himself intensively to compositions for flute: besides the Divertimenti Op 16, he also wrote two collections of ‘Quintetti piccoli’ (‘Little quintets’), Opp 17 and 19. Both collections were to be published slightly later by La Chevardière as Op 21 and Op 25 respectively. (The so-called ‘Quintetti di Madrid’, also for flute and strings and never committed to print, probably date from the same period.)

The exact dating of Op 19 presents one of the many intrigues associated with Boccherini’s career. The so-called ‘autograph’ catalogue (which is by no means an autograph), published in 1879 by Boccherini’s descendant Alfredo and probably based on a late version of the composer’s own catalogue, registers these quintets as ‘Op 19 of 1774’; the first print was made in 1776 and, as we have seen, bore the opus number 25. There is nothing strange in such discrepancy of opus numbers; we have good reasons to conclude that Boccherini revised the numberings in his catalogue several times in order to offer a credible chronological view of his output to publishers. Opus numbers, after all, were not as mandatory as scholars have sometimes supposed. But what is intriguing about Op 19 is the dating on the autograph score, now the property of Germaine de Rothschild’s heirs and carefully examined in the 1960s by Professor Yves Gérard: ‘Opera Sesta 1775 Libro Settimo’. To begin with, what Boccherini means by ‘Libro Settimo’ (i.e. ‘seventh book’) is far from clear; moreover, the rest of the entry, which is repeated at the beginning of each quintet, has clearly been erased and then corrected. We know that Boccherini was contracted to compose three collections per year, each of six compositions, for Don Luis; so a ‘sixth’ opus seems inexplicable. Yet, as Professor Gérard noted, the entry clearly modifies a previous ‘Opera Sec. da 1774’ (‘opus 2, 1774’), that is, a numbering and a dating perfectly consistent with both Don Luis’ commission and the 1879 catalogue. The corrections were clearly made by Boccherini himself. In other cases such modifications on autographs were intended to reconstruct a coherent history of Boccherini’s output, in order to persuade the Parisian publisher Pleyel to buy as new some of the collections that had in fact already been printed before the French Revolution. Yet Boccherini did not come into contact with Pleyel until 1796, and, as far as we know, the quintets Op 19 were never offered to him. The mystery therefore remains. What we can be sure of is that Op 19 was Boccherini’s second collection of 1774.

Because of the composer’s own definition of these pieces as ‘opere piccole’, one might expect them to show a lighter character. But we should remember Boccherini’s celebrated (and often misunderstood) sentence written in 1780 to Carlo Emanuele Andreoli, an intermediary between the composer himself and the Viennese publisher Artaria: ‘tutto è panno dell’istessa pezza’ (‘it is all cloth of the same piece’). What was different, in the case of the ‘opere piccole’, was the price: from the same ‘piece’ a ‘sheet’ could be produced for the price of thirty doblas, while a ‘pillowcase’, made up of barely two movements, would cost half the price. As disappointing as it may be to champions of art as a mission, that was the way Boccherini and his contemporaries treated the matter.

Actually the six Op 19 quintets cover a wide range of character and display all the resources, technical as well as expressive, common in the composer’s major works. In particular, Boccherini does not sacrifice his typical ‘symphonic’ concept of chamber music (octave doublings, full ‘orchestral’ chords and so on) while emphasizing the role of the flute. Nevertheless, the string-writing is fully integrated into the texture, rather than being of the more ‘insignificant’ type associated with concertos of the period. Two of the quintets (Nos 3 and 4) have virtuoso writing for the cello, Boccherini’s own instrument, that calls for an outstanding player.

In terms of the succession of movements, these works can be subdivided into three groups, with the sixth quintet being a special case. The first two quintets follow a ‘fast–fast’ pattern (with a minuet as the second movement), the third and fourth (the ‘flute and cello’ quintets) are ‘slow–fast’ (ending with a Rondeau grazioso and a Minuetto con moto respectively), and the fifth progresses from ‘fast’ to ‘faster’, being sealed by a breathtaking Presto assai. The second quintet is the only one in a minor key: it has a particularly dramatic first movement, in contrast with the sunny character of the first quintet.

The sixth piece of the collection deserves particular attention. The autograph score bears the title Las Parejas (‘The couples’), and each movement has a subtitle: a six-bar Entrada is immediately followed by a Marcia and a Galope; then, after a double re-exposition of the Entrada, there is a restatement of the Marcia, without repeats. The title refers to a typical Spanish horse race, in which two horsemen run hand in hand. This is the sort of ‘descriptive’ music where Boccherini was such a master (think also of his celebrated Musica notturna di Madrid). Such descriptions are among the most challenging features of Boccherini’s music. The edition of this quintet by La Chevardière lacks the general title while retaining the subtitles of each movement; perhaps Boccherini considered the explicit reference of title, intended for the Spaniards, as something unsuited to the French public.

Marco Mangani © 2008

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