BOCCHERINI: Cello Concertos Nos. 1-4 (Anthony Halstead/ Scottish Chamber Orchestra/ Tim Hugh) (Naxos: 8.553571)
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Luigi Boccherini was born in Tuscany in1743, in the beautiful old walled town of Lucca and died in Madrid in 1805. Hiswas a cultured family. His elder brother Giovanni Gastone, distinguished as adancer and choreographer, was also a poet and wrote opera libretti for Salieri,among others, and the text of Joseph Haydn's oratorio II ritorno di Tobia. Hissister, a dancer in Vienna, married Onorato Vigan?? and was the mother of thefamous dancer and choreographer Salvatore Vigan??. His father was a professionaldouble bass player and Luigi Boccherini himself made his debut as a cellist atthe age of thirteen. In 1757 he went to study in Rome but had only been there afew months when both he and his father were summoned to Vienna to play in thecourt orchestra. Although barely fifteen years old, his performance apparentlymade a deep impression on the Viennese musical establishment, which suggeststhat this reportedly very amiable and affable young virtuoso had plenty ofopportunity to shine as a soloist in concertos and in chamber music.
From this time onwards Boccherini's lifewas a very busy one and involved much travelling. He returned to Lucca onvarious occasions, finally, in 1764, taking up a position in the musicalestablishment and retaining his connection there for the following three years.
In 1766 he embarked on an extended concert tour with the Lucca violinist FilipoManfredi, reaching Paris in 1767. Here he had some of his works published andappeared with Manfredi at the Concerts spirituels, among otherengagements. It was seemingly in 1768 that Boccherini and Manfredi travelled toMadrid, very probably with the promise of enthusiastic patronage from theSpanish court. Boccherini's principal patron was the Spanish Infante Don Luisfor whom he wrote many new works. In the circumstances in which he foundhimself he was able to continue his particular interest in chamber music, asshown in his first Paris publications, embarking on his famous series of stringquintets, with a concertante first cello part.
Boccherini followed the Infante Don Luisto Avila, after the latter's marriage earned official disapproval, but afterthe death of the Infante in 1785 he was granted a pension of half his salary bythe King. In 1786 he was appointed chamber composer to the heir to the Prussianthrone, an enthusiastic amateur cellist, who in the following year succeededhis uncle as Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. There is no record, however, ofany visit by Boccherini to the court in Berlin. He sought a renewal of hisappointment in 1798, after the death of the king, but this was not granted.
According to later members of his family Boccherini was offered a teachingposition at the new Conservatoire in Paris, where his music enjoyedconsiderable esteem, but graciously declined the offer. In Madrid, however, hehad for some years enjoyed the support of private patrons and was employed bythe French ambassador to Spain, Lucien Bonaparte, who reached Madrid late in1800.
Throughout his life Boccherini pursued hisconcert career with enormous energy and at the same time wrote a quiteunbelievable amount of music. In his last years, no longer playing but stillcomposing, he appeared to be living in reduced circumstances, in some financialdifficulties and no doubt suffering from the recent death of his second wifeand also of two daughters. He died in 1805.
Boccherini made an incomplete thematiccatalogue of his own works but this was destroyed in the turmoil of the Spanishcivil war. Only in 1969 did Yves Gerard publish a new catalogue of the completeceuvre, listing eleven concertos. The twelfth cello concerto was only discoveredin 1987 in a library in Naples. The twelve known cello concertos are allprobably quite youthful works, written before he settled in Madrid. These worksexploit virtuoso technique, a prominent feature of which is the use ofextremely fast passage-work in the very highest registers of the instrument,sometimes with additional double-stopping to provide the performer with evengreater difficulties.
Concerto No.1 in C major startswith an orchestral tutti that presents some of the typical features ofBoccherini's style. The music is open, fresh, uncluttered, yet sensual,optimistic and essentially appealing. In the second theme the clear harmonicpalette is delicately shaded by momentary chromatic changes which yield to arepetition of the opening theme. In the slow quaver tread of the very touching Largowhich follows, however, we are reminded that the High Baroque is not so faraway. The final Allegro has many of the formal characteristics of thefirst movement, a kind of loose sonata-form. In the cellist's opening themehigh and low notes alternate at some speed, as visually as it is audibly impressive.
Aldo Pais notes the similarity of the second theme of this movement to the veryfamous minuet from the fifth string quintet.
In Concerto No.2 in D major thesolo cello sections are accompanied only by violins, which, with the high cellomelodies, gives the music an airy lightness and grace. The opening Allegro isvery florid, mixing all kinds of varied rhythms within the phrase, which is oneof the defining characteristics of the rococo style. The Adagio contrastssolemn, very chromatic and almost hymn-like music with the decorative lines ofthe two solo sections. The surefooted joyful finale begins with a pedal noteand features accented syncopations in the manner of Haydn. This is a rusticdance, tidied up and presented with a certain courtly elegance and decorum forthe Viennese court.
The opening Allegro moderato of ConcertoNo.3 in G major is quite a complex structure with a number of variedthematic ideas in the orchestral and the solo expositions. The orchestralaccompaniments to the solos are for violins and violas only. The joy of thisconcerto is its slow movement in G minor. With the simplest of means this Adagiocreates a mood of real seriousness and of deeply felt emotion. The longheld melody note at the beginning of the main theme is certainly reminiscent ofslow movements in Each. The finale returns to the courtly elegance of a Quasimenuetto but with an extended form mixing sonata and rondo principles.
Rather unusually, finales in Boccherini often have the same richness ofthematic content and complexity as his opening movements.
The Concerto No.4 in C major returnsto the fuller sonority of the first concerto. In the opening movement anunusual feature occurs just before the cadenza in which the orchestra sustainsharmonies while the cello weaves arpeggiated figures around them. The cadenzaproper takes up these patterns to lead with a flourish into the finalorchestral tutti. The dotted rhythms and slightly melancholic eleganceof the Adagio are rather reminiscent of the sophistications of theFrench stile galant. The Allegretto begins with an energeticrising string figure, which suggests that Boccherini was already under theinfluence of the Mannheim orchestral style. This theme is heard eight times inthe course of the sonata-form movement. The crystal clarity of the texture andthe repetitions and economy of thematic material give the impression of alight-hearted rondo.
John Marlow Rhys
The British cellist Tim Hugh won two topmedals at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition. He studied with Aldo Parisot atYale and Jacqueline Du Pre in London before gaining his MA in Medicine atCambridge. He has played with most British orchestras and toured in