Boccherini: String Quintets, G337, G338, G339; String Quartet in D, G249

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COMPOSERS: Boccherini
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Scene
WORKS: String Quintets, G337, G338, G339; String Quartet in D, G249
PERFORMER: Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 603 1040-2
These three string quintets (with double bass rather than a second cello) of 1787 have many of Boccherini’s familiar hallmarks: Allegros full of busy, intricate detail against slow-moving harmonies, decorous, faintly melancholy minuets, and slow movements that tap a distinctive vein of Mediterranean pathos and morbidezza. This is supremely leisured music, casually organised by the standards of Haydn and Mozart, and staking much on piquant and varied tone colours – pizzicato and sul ponticello effects, glassy violin harmonics, guitar-like tremolandos and so on. Typically, too, the cello often soars into its plangent upper register, as in its exchanges with the first violin in the opening movement of the D major. Boccherini’s sensuous delight in texture doesn’t always save the day; and in the faster movements he can become irritatingly hypnotised by one or two harmonies or a banal cadential cliché. But there are many incidental pleasures here, among them the deliciously languorous siciliano in the D major, and the quirky second and third movements of the B flat, with their contrasts of tempo and mood. If period instruments would have given Boccherini’s often elaborate textures greater clarity, the Frankfurt players give polished, thoughtfully phrased readings, savouring the composer’s picturesque sonorities and never seeking to imbue this music with an alien tension or urgency. Richard Wigmore

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