BOCCHERINI: Cello Concertos Nos. 5-8 (Anthony Halstead/ Scottish Chamber Orchestra/ Tim Hugh) (Naxos: 8.553572)
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Luigi Boccherini was born in Tuscany, inthe beautiful old walled town of Lucca, to a cultured family. His elder brotherGiovanni Gastone, distinguished as a dancer and choreographer, was also a poetand wrote opera libretti for Salieri, among others, and the text of JosephHaydn's oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia. His sister, a dancer in Vienna,married Onorato Vigano and was the mother of the famous dancer andchoreographer Salvatore Vigano. His father was a professional double bassplayer and Luigi Boccherini himself made his debut as a cellist at the age ofthirteen. In 1757 he went to study in Rome but had only been there a few monthswhen both he and his father were summoned to Vienna to play in the courtorchestra. Although barely fifteen years old, his performance apparently made adeep impression on the Viennese musical establishment, which suggests that thisreportedly very amiable and affable young virtuoso had plenty of opportunity toshine 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 violinistFilippo Manfredi, reaching Paris in 1767. Here he had some of his workspublished and appeared with Manfredi at the Concerts spirituels, amongother engagements. It was seemingly in 1768 that Boccherini and Manfreditravelled to Madrid, probably with the promise of enthusiastic patronage fromthe Spanish court. Boccherini's principal patron was the Spanish Infante DonLuis for 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. Boccherini followed the Infante Don Luis to Avila and after thelatter's death was granted a pension of half his salary by the King. In 1786 hewas appointed chamber composer to the heir to the Prussian throne, anenthusiastic amateur cellist, who in the following year succeeded his uncle asFriedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. There is no record. However, of any visit byBoccherini to the court in Berlin. He sought a renewal of his appointment in1798, after the death of the king, but this was not granted. According to latermembers of his family Boccherini was offered a teaching position at the newConservatoire in Paris, where his music enjoyed considerable esteem, butgraciously declined the offer. In Madrid, however, he had for some yearsenjoyed the support of private patrons and was employed by the Frenchambassador to Spain. Lucien Bonaparte, who reached Madrid late in 1800.
Throughout his life Boccheriui pursuedhis concert 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.
Boccheriui 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 completereuvre, 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.
The title page of Cello Concerto No.5in E flat major reads: 'Concerto per Grande Orchestra per il Violoncello',although the orchestra is the quite usual one of two oboes, two horns andstrings. However, the tuttis in this work do have a quite full, richsound, reduced, as in all these concertos, to chamber-like sonorities toaccompany the solo cello.
The opening movement is an expansivesonata form with an extended development section. The solo cello's presentationof the principal subject features a low arpeggiated figure which is developedlater in alternating dialogue with a higher melodic line. This 'conversational'feature is taken up and developed in the cadenza to this movement. The Largoopens with some surprising chromaticisms in the orchestra but with theentry of the solo cello we are treated to a broad melodic line, beautifullyextended and somewhat Handelian in spirit. The rondo Finale has greatpanache and is a real display piece. After the third of the four appearances ofthe ebullient main theme the third episode features a dazzling display ofcellistic virtuosity before the cadenza and the vivacious coda whichends this work.
Cello Concerto No.6 in A major isa shorter work whose first movement is a transcription of the composer's own CelloSonata No. 1 in the same key. So the cello enters after only ten bars witha repetition of the principal subject. The second subject features doublestopping with faster passage work set against a sustained note which gives a momentaryflavour of the musette. The Adagio is a simple, graciousmovement, opening with a theme featuring elegant appoggiaturas. When thesolo cello echoes this theme the melodic shape is quite altered while thedistinctive rhythm is retained. The Allegro Rondo displays its maintheme six times, three each for cello and for orchestra. In the first episodethere are some leap-frogging forays into the lower register of the cello,noticeable here since so much of Boccherini's cello writing is extremely highin the instrument's tessitura.
Concerto No.7 in D major ison a larger scale than Concerto No 6, and its two flutes create quite adifferent sonority. The opening orchestral tutti is already quiteexpansive and includes several thematic ideas. Some of the themes here areshaped to allow a conversational interplay between the two flutes and the upperstrings which becomes a feature of this concerto.
In the following Largo the clear,simple harmonies are a backcloth for the cello to weave delicate arabesques atquicksilver speed round the slowly changing chords. The Finale (Allegro conpiacere) is loosely constructed, its rondo-like theme giving rise tovaried continuations on its four appearances.
Some controversy surrounds ConcertoNo.8 in D major but from an ambiguously written note in the Praguemanuscript the best surmise is that the two final rondos are in factalternatives to be added to the first two movements. The Allegro con spiritoopens with the theme of the first cello concerto in C major, (just one of anumber of borrowings in this work). However, the original theme is muchextended and the whole movement is on a larger scale than the earlier work. Therather stately Larghetto is noteworthy for its telling chromaticismswhich dissolve into sequences of suspensions beautifully poised and expressiveof a refined melancholy.
The Rondo (Comodo assai), inthree/four time, begins for all the world like an aristocratic minuet with allthe formal repetitions this entails, but as the movement unfolds this isrevealed as a more expansive and episodic piece which returns to its openingthe