LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: String Quintets Op. 60/1 & 5,Op. 62/1
PERFORMER: Ensemble 415
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901402 DDD
We celebrate the 250th anniversary of Luigi Boccherini’s birth thisyear – hence the rich trove of CDs, largely from Capriccio, and largely of hitherto unrecorded chamber music. In addition to the four discs reviewed here, there are also two discs of symphonies. Boccherini’s reputation was principally that of
a chamber music composer,though his symphonies were also appreciated in his own day, particularly by Frederick William II, King of Prussia (for whom Mozart composed his Prussian Quartets in 1789 and 1790).
We are offered a true feast here:a CD devoted to string quartets, one to string quintets with two violas, one to string sextets (two violas, two cellos), and one to large-scale divertimenti which might be compared to Haydn’s so-called ‘Op. 31’, which in their final versions are scored for flute, two horns, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, published in 1781. Boccherini’s were composed in 1773 and published in Paris two years later, and their scoring is flute, two violins, viola, two cellos and double bass.
Faced with this veritable embarras de richesses, and considering that the performances are all first-rate (as are the recordings), the unhappy reviewer can only suggest two courses of action. If you can afford to do so, buy them all: you will not regret it. Boccherini is an infinitely subtle composer, with a delicate hint of sadness lying over much of his music. He is the most neglected of all great 18th-century composers, as the late Hans Keller never tired of reminding his sceptical British public. If you cannot afford all six CDs, try one of the records of the symphonies, and one of the chamber music (perhaps the ravishingly beautiful string sextets, so rarely heard).HC Robbins Landon