Notes and Editorial Reviews
In his booklet notes to Testament's luscious reissues of the fabled Quintetto Boccherini's mid-1950s EMI recordings of their namesake's two-cello quintets, Tully Potter calls Boccherini the "most likable of composers." That he was. It's hard to think of another composer whose music goes down more easily, or who affords more pure listening pleasure than this native of Lucca who spent most of his career in Spain. Virtually everything the man wrote is chock-full of singing melodies, rich textures, quirky rhythms, and harmonic subtleties. To that mix many of his string quintets add active first cello parts (for Boccherini to play himself) and, like much of his other music, frequent allusions to Spanish dance music.
Fundamentalist adherents of period performance practice will find these pioneering recordings anachronistic. The Quintetto Boccherini plays modern instruments (actually old instruments with modern strings and bows) used with more vibrato and legato than today's youngbloods tolerate. They employ moderate tempos and overt emotionality and dare to use outdated performing editions that were replaced long after the group disbanded. To which criticism the only possible reply is: Get used to it. For this ensemble played Boccherini's quintets at a time when they were extremely rare, played them lovingly, delivered performances that were outstanding in their time, and now, almost 50 years later, still sound fine.
Returning to these recordings after many years, I'm struck not only by how good they still are but also with how even the most recalcitrant among us cannot help but be influenced by the huge changes in performance practice. So yes, many's the moment when I wanted more urgent tempos in the faster movements, a more freewheeling approach, and some period-appropriate ornamentation. And while I easily prefer this ensemble to most period groups, the virtuosity and spirit of Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante now sets standards unreached by the Quintetto Boccherini. But few do, and this Testament series is a necessary purchase for anyone who loves Boccherini's music.
This first volume includes four complete quintets and movements from two others--the Grave from G. 325 and the familiar Minuetto from G. 275 (the one from the 1955 British comedy starring Alec Guinness, The Ladykillers, Boccherini's answer to Albinoni's Adagio). "G" stands for Yves Gérard, who restored order to the mess of varied numberings and corrupt texts imposed by different publishers and editors over the years. Not every one of the 14 different movements on this disc is unforgettable, but Boccherini being Boccherini, an extremely high proportion of them make you want to hit your CD player's repeat button.
The disc opens with a perfect example--a lighthearted melody of ineffable sweetness over a plucked accompaniment that begins the Quintet G. 297. After slight ritards, the melody or its variations start up all over again throughout the movement. Boccherini's love of contrasts wins out in the "Fandango" Quintet, whose short, restrained Grave opening is followed by the irresistibly engaging, toe-tapping fandango-based second movement. The Quintetto Boccherini plays it straight, and although it's effective, a more uninhibited, less respectful interpretive stance would have been preferable. This is a piece that should really rock.
The G. 276 Quintet ("The Aviary") is one of those descriptive pieces that 18th-century composers seem to have loved, full of bird imitations, shepherd pipes, and hunting calls. In the Quintetto's performance, Boccherini's contribution to the genre is blessedly free of corny exaggerations, and the players excel in their imitation of the natural hunting horn. The disc ends with the late G major Quintet G. 395, a striking work with a dramatic opening movement and a superb Andantino con grazia to which the ensemble brings an eloquently Mozartian combination of emotional depth and elegance.
The sound, made in the waning days of monophonic recording (1954/55), is full of presence and conveys dynamic subtleties; however, violins are given prominence at the expense of the cellos, which sometimes are reduced to dim shadows. There are traces of tape wear-induced distortion and grain but nothing to get upset about. Today's top stereo engineers are able to capture more inner detail and rounder timbres, but there's nothing in the sonics of this generously filled disc (79:31) that prevents full enjoyment.
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title