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Boccherini: Seven Symphonies / Shepherd, Cantilena


Release Date: 12/01/2009 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 8414   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This very welcome set brings Boccherini the symphonist back to the catalogue. Boccherini the symphonist?—well, he was not a symphonist in the sense that his great Viennese contemporaries, Haydn and Mozart, were, but so long as one is not looking for purposeful, strongly directed music there is a lot of pleasure to be had from his more leisurely, more decorative approach. I was going to say, too, more Latin approach, but that is only partly true, for most Italian symphonies of this period are formally more sharply defined than Boccherini's. The very first one on this set, which he wrote in his young days in Lucca, where it served as overture to an extended cantata (of 1765), is the most typical of its time—a threemovement work, the first Read more full of vitality and quite closely argued, with economical use of subjectmatter and (less usually for the time) some ingenious and intriguing imitative writing, and the second distinguished by its graceful melodic line.

The remaining symphonies here are drawn, two each, from three of Boccherini's four collections of symphonies, numbered in his own catalogue Op. 12 (1771), Op. 35 (1782) and Op. 37(1786-7, not, as the notes here state, 1798); his Op. 21 set is not represented. They all date, therefore, from Boccherini's Spanish years, when he worked in .Madrid for the royal family. He was, of course, primarily a composer of chamber music. It is interesting to see how his symphonies acquire a special character from these two factors—first, the musical ambience of Spain, and second, his chamber-music based approach to composition.

The Spanish element comes in, for example, in the fierce rhythmic outbursts in some of the tuttis, which (as in some Scarlatti sonatas) hint at the sound of passionate guitar playing, and also in the shifts between major and minor (often so melancholy in effect)—one movement here, the first of Op. 35 No. 6, has some fascinating chromaticisms that, in ,a wholly Spanish way, give an exotic effect but not at all an expressive one, like other chromaticism at this period. This symphony is in fact one of the most attractive, with an Andante of grave beauty and an odd little finale in which a minuet is set between two short Presto sections. As for the chamber-music influence, this comes up repeatedly in the finely detailed writing, which often is seriously damaging (if one takes it too seriously, that is) to the symphonic momentum, and in the often colourful textures, which in a Haydn work would seem positively gaudy. Boccherini headed each of his Op. 12 set Concerto a grande orchestra, which—without meaning 'concerto' in the modern sense—does imply something about his approach, and the richly colourful writing in the expansive first movement of No. 3, as well as the eloquent solo passages for flute and cello in the Andante bear this out. The fourth here has a finale based on Gluck's famous D minor chaconne from his Don Juan (more familiar from its later use in the Paris version of Oil.eo, where it is a "Dance of the Furies"); Boccherini rewrites it quite extensively, and in very fascinating ways, to make it appropriate as a symphony movement, and he calls the symphony Della casa del diavolo. (The suggestion in the notes here that the music may represent Don Giovanni-like seduction episodes is totally groundless, as is the observation that the piece is not a chaconne.)

Of the remaining symphonies, I would mention in particular the exquisite Andante of Op. 35 No. 3, played here with gentleness and much refinement on a solo violin (1 would be slightly surprised. if this were authentic, but the effect in this very detailed chamber-music line amply justifies it); this symphony also has a fine first movement, in parts extremely vigorous but tending, characteristically, to run off into patterns of sequence, some gentle, some exclamatory. The last two symphonies, from Op. 37, show—as often in his later works—the mannerisms even more marked, with the forms lacking sense of direction but much graceful, detailed writing, for solo woodwind and strings and slow movements in particular of charm and refinement.

The performances here are very sympathetic and show a good understanding of Boccherini's personal idiom. Here and there a tempo seems slowish (the middle movement of the first work, for example, or the Minuet of the last). There is much sensitive expressive shading, and as I have indicated, the solo string playing is subtle and sweet-toned. Repeats, properly, are religiously observed. Here and there, however, ensemble is uncertain and attack a little ragged; this leads to the textures being less sharply defined than would be ideal (the use of modern instruments is a contributory factor). And there are some movements, for example the Andantino of Op. 12 No. 4, where the music might have profited from more careful shaping. The harpsichord continuo is sometimes too prominent, and too active for music of this date; occasionally it seems to be less than ideally prompt. The general sound and quality of the recording is good but there are a few quirks of balance.

-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [3/1986]
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony in D major, G 490 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1775 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 7 Minutes 6 Secs. 
2.
Symphony in A major, Op. 35 no 3/G 511 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: 1782; Spain 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 16 Minutes 23 Secs. 
3.
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 35 no 6/G 514 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: 1782; Spain 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 17 Minutes 20 Secs. 
4.
Symphony in D minor, Op. 12 no 4/G 506 "Nella casa del diavolo" by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: 1771; Spain 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 21 Minutes 38 Secs. 
5.
Symphony in C major, Op. 12 no 3/G 505 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: 1771; Spain 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 18 Minutes 22 Secs. 
6.
Symphony in D minor, Op. 37 no 3/G 517 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Spain 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 19 Minutes 18 Secs. 
7.
Symphony in A major, Op. 37 no 4/G 518 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Adrian Shepherd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cantilena
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Spain 
Venue:  SNO Center, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 21 Minutes 40 Secs. 

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