BOCCHERINI: Flute Quintets, Op. 17 (Alexandre Magnin/ Janacek Quartet/ Václav Zamazal) (Naxos: 8.553719)
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Luigi Boccherini (1743 -1805)
Flute Quintets, Op. 17, G.419-424
Quintet No.1 in D major, G. 419
Quintet No.2 in C major, G. 420
Quintet No.3 in D minor, G. 421
Quintet No.4 in B flat major, G. 422
Quintet No.5 in G major, G. 423
Quintet No.6 in E flat major, G. 424
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 brotherGiovan Gastone, born in 1742, was both dancer and poet, the author of the textof Haydn's Il ritorno di Tobia andof the libretti of some earlier stage works of the Vienna court composer,Antonio Salieri. His sister Maria Ester was a dancer and married Onorato Vigan??,a distinguished dancer and choreographer. Her son, Salvatore Vigan??, whostudied composition with Boccherini, occupies a position of considerableimportance in the history of ballet.
Boccherini was giving concerts as a cellist by the age of thirteen, andin 1757 went with his father to Vienna, where they were both invited to jointhe orchestra of the court theatre. Boccherini returned two years later toLucca, 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, and theformer continued his work as a composer, as well as appearing as a cellovirtuoso. In 1768 the pair left for Spain, where Boccherini seems to have liveduntil his death in 1805. In Madrid he was appointed composer and virtuoso di camera to the Infante DonLuis, younger brother of King Carlos III. Part of the following period he spentin Madrid and part at the Palace of Las Arenas in the province of Avila, wherethe Infante retired after an unacceptable marriage. Members of the Font family wereemployed by the Infante as a string quartet and renewed their association withBoccherini towards the end of the century. After the death of Don Luis in 1785,Boccherini entered the service of the Benevente-Osuna family. At the same timehe was appointed court composer to Friedrich Wilhelm, who in 1787 became Kingof Prussia, providing the cello-playing king with new compositions on the samekind of exclusive arrangement that he had earlier enjoyed with Don Luis. Thereis, however, no evidence that Boccherini ever spent any time in Prussia. Afterthe death of Fredrich Wilhelm and the departure of other patrons from Madrid,Boccherini received support from Lucien Bonaparte, French ambassador, andremained busy to the end of his life, although visitors reported that he livedin all the appearance of poverty.
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 some467 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.
The attractive set of six quintets for flute and string quartet islisted by Boccherini as Opus 17,dated 1773 and described as opera piccola. Theset was first published as Opus 21
some two years later. G reference numbers refer to the catalogue of the musicof Boccherini by the French musicologist Yves Gerard.
The Quintet No.1 in D major opens with a repeated note andoffers a first theme of considerable charm. It is the repeated note,introductory and then in accompaniment, that marks also the opening of thecentral section. The second movement opens with a tenderly lyrical flutemelody, a minuet to hear rather than dance to. There is a minor key triosection to provide the necessary contrast.
The Quintet No.2 in C major startswith a melody that seems about to offer a foretaste of revolutionary fervour tocome, before turning into gentler territory, proceeding in a mood that mayremind the listener of the contemporary description of Boccherini as 'the wifeof Haydn'. Again there is a minuet second movement, marked Amoroso, and here once more there is ashow of charm and elegance, in music that makes no heavy demands on anaudience, with its contrasting minor key trio section hardly darkening the skyfor a second.
The third quintet of the set, the QuintetNo.3 in D minor, inits key offers rather more sombre material, although the initial mood is notmaintained. The second movement is a rondo, characteristically marked Allegro grazioso. There is a gracefulenough principal theme, framing contrasting episodes, the first allowing moreactivity to the violins and the second in the minor.
Quintet No.4 in B flat major openscheerfully, as flute and violin enjoy an antiphonal dialogue, into whichmoments of occasional poignancy intrude. The second movement is a minuet inrhythm, with an element of contrasting material.
The fifth of the set, the Quintet inG major, sets a moodof happy clarity in its opening, with an immediate contrast of texture thatmakes use of the lower strings, with continuing prominence for the flute. Thesecond movement, a faster Allegro assai, presentsits varied material in a cheerful framework, tempered by brief excursions intothe minor mode.
The series of quintets ends with the shortest, the Quintet in E flat major. This opens with a heartfelt Larghetto.
The last movement, a rondo, allows the violin a contrasting episode,followed by a minor key episode in which the flute assumes greater prominence,relaxing into a gentler mood before a brief flute cadenza re-introduces theprincipal theme.
The flautist Alexandre Magnin was born in Lausanne in 1936 and had hismusical training in Geneva and Zurich. He won the Premier Prix de Virtuosite atthe Geneva Conservatoire, later appearing with the Orchestre de la SuisseRomande, with the encouragement of Ernest Ansermet. In 1960 he became principalflautist in the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, while continuing a distinguished careeras a soloist in Switzerland and abroad. Alexandre Magnin has a particularinterest in the work of J.S.Bach and has contributed notably to musicologicalresearch into Bach's music for flute and to the study of symbolism in Bach. Heis a champion also of contemporary music, a fact witnessed by a number ofdedications to him from contemporary composers.
The Janacek Quartet was founded in 1947 by students of the BrnoConservatory and has won a significant international reputation, with earlierrecordings of the string quartets of Janacek which were, in their day,definitive. Over the years there have been various changes of personnel, andthe players are now the violinists Jiri Novotny and Vitezslav Zavadilik, theviola-player Ladislav Kyselak and the cellist Bretislav Vybiral. Recent concertactivities have included extensive concert tours, which have taken the quartetto venues throughout Europe, in Japan and South Korea. This is in addition toappearances at home, recordings and