Notes and Editorial Reviews
An interesting survey of Boccherini’s string quartets and quintets, sensitively played by an ensemble well attuned to his flighty and oddly elusive style.
Joseph Haydn is usually regarded as the father of the string quartet. However, Luigi Boccherini wrote his first string quartets in 1761, just predating Haydn’s Op. 1 collection. Boccherini could not have known Haydn’s work, so it would appear that the two composers independently arrived at the same idea. But there can be little doubt that Boccherini was the first to add either a second viola or cello to the standard string quartet to form a string quintet. This double CD with the Petersen Quartet features four each of Boccherini’s string quartets and quintets, making
this set a convenient introduction to his chamber music.
Boccherini is a composer who is capable of surprising even when his work seems to be proceeding along a well-trodden path. One of the leading cellists of his day, his virtuoso command of the instrument can be seen in his occasionally very high-lying cello lines. Boccherini’s part-writing is correspondingly less violin-dominated than the early Haydn quartets, all the lines behaving with a great deal of freedom. An example is the first movement of the Quartet no. 36, in which the theme is given a two-part treatment featuring canonic imitation over a pedal point. The violin and cello are often given mini-cadenzas, particularly in the slow movements. Boccherini’s dramatic pauses also recall Haydn, but the flightiness of his music more resembles C.P.E. Bach.
Boccherini’s minuets are often the most interesting movements; that of the Quintet no. 15 is a case in point. The movement opens in a placid mood, sounding rather like a moderate tempo scherzo. There is then an abrupt plunge into a trio featuring a delicate violin melody over pizzicato accompaniment. The slow movements sometimes feel like an aria for either the leader or cello, often in a mood of tender lamentation; the second movement of the Quintet no. 62 is a particularly fine example. The Quintets have a noticeably richer sound, especially no. 16 with its second cello part; the opening of this work, in which the cello shares the first subject with the leader, is especially fine.
Many of the chamber groups that have recorded Boccherini have done so on original instruments; the Esterhazy Quartet and Europa Galante are two that come to mind. Because the Petersen Quartet - and their guest second viola and cello - play on modern instruments, their sound does not quite have the warmth of these ensembles. Nonetheless the Petersens play with a lightness of touch that shows how well they have thought this music through. Their performances are elegant and sensitive, and all the players get and take their chance to shine; I particularly enjoyed the contributions of their cellist Hans-Jakob Eschenburg. The ensemble’s intonation is impeccable throughout, and the recording has presence without being too close. This set offers very fine quartet and quintet playing, and will please anyone seeking an overview of Boccherini’s chamber music.
-- Guy Aron, MusicWeb International Read less
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