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Boccherini: Symphonies / New Berlin Chamber Orchestra


Release Date: 11/15/2011 
Label:  Phoenix Edition   Catalog #: 460  
Composer:  Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BOCCHERINI Symphonies: No. 13; Nos. 15–20 Michael Erxleben (vn, cond); New Berlin CO PHOENIX 460 (2 CDs: 107:56)


These are 1992 recordings that originally circulated on Capriccio and have been licensed for reissue to the budget label Phoenix. They were reviewed by Brian Robins back in Fanfare 29:5 when they were released as part of a larger 10-CD Boccherini box containing a hefty helping of the composer’s chamber works, but due to the volume of material, Read more he didn’t say much specifically about these symphonies. I suppose one must really have to have an appetite for Boccherini to consume his music in such supersized portions, for his works have long measured low on the calories scale and been deemed not likely to satisfy one’s hunger for any length of time.


Unfortunately, critical opinion, even when wrong, sometimes sticks, and in Boccherini’s case, to no small degree, it has. He has been the butt of many a disparaging remark, one of the unkindest dating back to the 19th century when he was saddled with the sobriquet “Haydn’s wife.” That was as unfair and unhelpful a brickbat then as it is now when it comes to elucidating the composer’s weaknesses as well as his strengths.


As a highly accomplished cellist, Boccherini counted among his greatest strengths his furthering of cello technique and his liberating of the cello from its traditional role as a continuo or harmonic bass reinforcing instrument. This is attested to particularly in his novel quintets employing two cellos, but also in his numerous string quartets, cello sonatas, and cello concertos.


His symphonies—28 of them—are fewer and not as innovative. It’s primarily in this field that Boccherini is found wanting when held up against Haydn, but the comparison is not entirely apt. Culturally, Haydn is a transitional figure, a man-about-court during his long and fruitful relationship with the Esterhazy family, but also a man of the world, twice traveling to London where concerts featuring his symphonies were sold-out events. But Haydn the master was also, in a sense, Haydn the slave, his adoring audiences clamoring for ever more dazzling works on a grand scale. He had to fulfill the supply side of the supply-and-demand compact.


Boccherini never fully made that transition to public artist. All of his symphonies were written between 1771 and 1782 for the orchestra of the Spanish Infante, Don Luis, in whose court Boccherini served as chamber musician and composer, and when Luis died in 1783, Boccherini took the same position in the court of King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia.


These works are crafted on a smaller scale for more modest forces, as befits the setting for which they were written; though they’re all in the classical four-movement layout with a Minuet in second or third position, in style of writing they retain some of the characteristics of the sinfonia-type symphonies that look back to a slightly earlier era. Sonata-allegro form, where it exists, is not as clearly defined as it is in Haydn and early Beethoven, and especially in some of the stylized dance gestures, one detects a French accent, perhaps the influence of Gossec, whom Boccherini had met in Paris before taking up his position at the Spanish court.


Comparisons then with Haydn’s middle-period symphonies composed during this same timeframe, I believe, are neither particularly instructive nor just in assessing the worth of Boccherini’s music. In the main, these are buoyant, high-spirited scores—even the minor-key ones—perfectly crafted for their purpose as essentially formal palace entertainments. Of their type, Boccherini’s symphonies are of a very high quality and repay the listener with much pleasure.


The New Berlin Chamber Orchestra is a modern-instrument ensemble, numbering, according to the group photo in the booklet, 13 players including Michael Erxleben, who plays first-chair violin and doubles as conductor.


If you’re a real Boccherini glutton, waiting for you on cpo is an eight-disc set of the complete symphonies with Johannes Goritzki leading the German Chamber Academy of Neuss. That set received a strong recommendation from Martin Anderson in Fanfare 23:5. But if you prefer the meal in smaller servings, this two-disc set is ideal. Works are very stylishly played, even if not on period instruments, and there’s not a dud among them.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony in C major, Op. 37 no 1/G 515 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Spain 
2.
Symphony in D minor, Op. 37 no 3/G 517 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Spain 
3.
Symphony in A major, Op. 37 no 4/G 518 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Spain 
4.
Symphony in C minor, Op. 41/G 519 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1788; Spain 
5.
Symphony in D major, Op. 42/G 520 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1789; Spain 
6.
Symphony in D major, Op. 43/G 521 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Spain 
7.
Symphony in D minor, Op 45 no 5/G 522 by Luigi Boccherini
Conductor:  Michael Erxleben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Berlin Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1792; Spain 

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