BOCCHERINI: Cello Sonatas (Christian Benda/ Sebastian Benda) (Naxos: 8.554324)
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Cello Sonatas, Volume1
The Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini was born in Lucca in1743, the son of a double-bass player. His family was distinguished not only inmusic but also boasted poets and dancers among its members. His elder brotherGiovanni Gastone, born in 1742, was both dancer and poet, the author of thetext of Haydn's Il ritorno di Tobia and of the libretti of some earlierstage works of the Vienna court composer, Antonio Salieri. He later becameofficial poet of the Coliseo de los Canos del Peral in Madrid, a theatre to theconcerts in which Boccherini had contributed music. His sister Maria Ester wasa dancer and married Onorato Vigan??, a distinguished dancer and choreographer.
Her son, Salvatore Vigan??, who studied composition with Boccherini, occupies aposition of considerable importance in the history of ballet.
By the age of thirteen Boccherini was appearing in concerts as acellist. In 1757 he went with his father to Vienna, where they were both invitedto join the orchestra of the court theatre. Boccherini returned two years laterto Lucca, but there were further visits to Vienna before he found a position in1764 at home. In 1766, however, he set out with his fellow-townsman, theviolinist Manfredi, a pupil of Nardini, for Paris, having performed with bothviolinists and with Cambini in chamber music in Milan the previous year.
In France Boccherini and Manfredi won considerable success andBoccherini himself also continued his work as a composer, in addition to hisperformances as a virtuoso. In 1768 the pair left for Spain, where Boccheriniseems to have lived until his death in 1805. In Madrid he was appointedcomposer and virtuoso di camera to the Infante Don Luis, younger brotherof King Carlos III. Part of the following period he spent in Madrid and part atthe Palace of Las Arenas in the province of Avila, where the Infante retiredafter an unacceptable marriage. Members of the Font family were employed by thePrince as a string quartet, for which Boccherini wrote quartets and with whomhe performed his own string quintets. He renewed his association with FranciscoFont in later years. After the death of Don Luis in 1785, Boccherini enteredthe service of the Benavente-Osuna family in Madrid, directing the orchestra ofthe Countess-Duchess and providing music for her salon. Here he was one of adistinguished international company that included his friend, the painter Goya.
At the same time he was appointed court composer to Friedrich Wilhelm, nephewof Frederick the Great, who succeeded his uncle as King of Prussia in 1787. Inthis latter position he provided the cello-paying king with new compositionsunder the same kind of exclusive arrangement as that which he had earlierenjoyed with Don Luis. There is, however, no evidence that Boccherini everspent any time in Prussia. After the death of Friedrich Wilhelm II and thedeparture of other patrons from Madrid, Boccherini received support from LucienBonaparte, the French ambassador, and remained busy to the end of his life,although visitors reported that he lived in all the appearance of poverty, nowwithout any substantial patronage after Lucien Bonaparte's return to Paris.
Boccherini's style is completely characteristic of the period in whichhe lived, the period, that is, of Haydn, rather than that of Mozart orBeethoven. He enjoyed a reputation for his facility as a composer, leaving some460 or so compositions. A great deal of his music is designed to exploit thetechnical resources of the cello, in concertos, sonatas and, particularly, inchamber music for various numbers of instruments, including a remarkable seriesof works for string quintet with two cellos, the first of which is given aconcertante part.
There are problems in dating the sonatas that Boccherini wrote for celloand basso continuo, 34 of which survive. Mention is made in the Mercurede France of his performance of such a sonata in the Salle des Suisses ofthe Tuileries in Paris in 1768 and works published in his lifetime include aset of six sonatas issued in London about the year 1770. His style, however,does not appear to have changed vastly during his creative life.
The Sonata in A major, listed in the catalogue by theFrench musicologist Yves Gerard as G4, opens with a movement marked Allegromoderato, to which there is also an alternative version. Boccherini'ssonata movements show some flexibility and variety in form. This sonata, which,like its companions, makes some demands on the cellist, offers an opening themethat includes a characteristic broken-chord passage for the cello. The thematicmaterial is further developed, now with triplet rhythms, with secondarymaterial in the dominant key, the whole section then repeated. The second partof the movement makes reference to what has gone before, as it makes its wayback to the original key, offering the earlier material now in a varied form.
The decorated Adagio that follows, in the same key, moves forwardthrough expected modulation to a final virtuoso cadenza. The sonata ends with amovement marked, typically, Affettuoso. This movement is again in tworepeated sections, the second of which refers to the material of the first,offering, as before, a fuller return to the secondary material, now in the homekey.
Boccherini's Sonata in F minor was among a group of cellosonatas that were rediscovered in 1987. The first movement starts boldly,making full use of double-stopping in the principal theme, leading later to anaccompanying syncopated pattern of chords. The final returns of the main themeare ushered in by a brief recitative. The slow movement, marked Cantabile, offersan effective singing melody, followed by a lively fugal subject in acontrapuntal final Allegro that has elements of the Baroque in itsmusical idiom.
The Sonata in G major, G5, opens with cello chords thatreflect the direction at the head of the movement, Allegro militare. Thefirst section, interspersed with military elements in its primary and secondarymaterial, is followed by a section that touches on the key of G minor, beforethe return of the second theme, duly transposed to the key of the movement. Theslow movement, with its varied rhythmic patterns and melodic elaboration, leadsto a final Tempo di Minuetto in which the two repeated sections follow asimilar pattern to that of the first movement.
There is an alternative slow movement to the Sonata in C minor,G2, which starts with forthright chords from the cello. The first themeleads to a second thematic element, ending the first section of the movement inthe key of E flat major. After a repetition of the first section, the cellocontinues with a transposed version of the opening, developed before the returnof the secondary theme. The slow movement follows a pattern similar to otherBoccherini Adagios. It is in two sections, the second initially echoingthe first, but in the key of E flat major, leading to a final C minor and asolo cadenza. The first repeated section of the closing Allegretto startswith a double-stopped theme that is heard again at the end of a second sectionthat opens with contrasted sustained chords.
The Sonata in C major, G17, again using principally thehigher register of the cello, soon moves forward to a modulating passage ofdouble-stopping. The second of the two repeated sections, using a wider rangeof the cello, moves through C minor to E flat major for a return to the openingt