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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743 - 1805): Stabat mater

Amaryllis Dieltiens, sopranoa
Capriola Di Gioia

rec: August 2011, Bruges, St Leo
Aeolus - AE-10063 ( 2012) (68'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Deh respirar lasciatemi, aria (G 546)ad; Se non ti moro allato, aria (G 545)ad; Sonata for keyboard and violin in B flat, op. 5,1 (G 25)bc [1]; Stabat mater (H 532; version 1781)ad

[1] Sei sonate di cembalo e violino obbligato, op. 5, 1768

Dmitry Sinkovskyb, Annelies Decock, violin; Kaat De Cock, viola; Catherine Jones, cello; Hendrik-Jan Wolfert, double bass; Bart Naessens, harpsichordc, organd

In his time Luigi Boccherini was esteemed as one of the major composers, comparable with Joseph Haydn. Nowadays he is relatively well represented on disc, but still largely in the shadows of Mozart and Haydn. It will not often happen - if at all - that a concert is completely devoted to his music, and among music lovers at large he is still a more or less unknown quantity. There are several reasons for that, and among them is the fact that he didn't compose many large-scale works which are fit for large concert halls.

He only wrote a couple of operas, of which just one has been preserved. There are few sacred vocal works, the number of symphonies isn't very large and his corpus of solo concertos is almost exclusively for cello. This instrument - his own - plays a key role in his oeuvre. The largest genre in his chamber music - the main part of his output - comprises string quintets, mostly with two cello parts; one of these often has a more or less soloistic role. That is also the case in one section from the Stabat mater which is recorded here. Boccherini has provided cellists with much music of high calibre, but he is not appreciated by everyone of them. Some love to play his quintets and sonatas, others avoid them like the plague. It seems that it is one way of the other, and that there is no middle road. The same seems to be the case with audiences.

I belong to those who love his music. It is often easy to recognize: some motifs and rhythms turn up in his music time and again, but one doesn't get the feeling that he repeats himself. The music on this disc is a-typical: there are no signs of the motifs and rhythms I referred to. The four compositions are also rather unique in his oeuvre. Only a few sacred works have come from Boccherini's pen; his Stabat mater is certainly the best-known piece in this genre. The two arias are concert arias whose texts by Metastasio date from long before Boccherini set them to music. That was probably the reason that the Paris publisher Pleyel refused to print them. The third category is music for keyboard and violin: Boccherini didn't compose much of that sort of stuff, although it was quite popular at the time.

Before the 19th century composers usually were in the service of an aristocrat, a church or a city. As a result they composed the music which their employers wanted or expected them to compose. This explains that Boccherini's oeuvre only includes a small number of large-scale works and that chamber music dominates. Many of the string quintets were written during his time as compositore e virtuoso di camera of Infante Don Luis Antonio, brother of King Charles III of Spain. He had a string quartet as his disposal and with Boccherini a virtuosic cellist entered his service who could join them. This resulted in a large number of string quintets with two cello parts, one of which was to be played by Boccherini himself. The concentration on chamber music even increased when his employer had to leave Madrid and settled in a small town, Las Arenas de San Pedro, in 1776, because he had married below his standing.

The Stabat mater dates from this period as well. The scoring for soprano and string quintet suggests that is was written for a performance by the Infante's musicians. Boccherini's wife, Clementina Pellicia, was a soprano and it is plausible to assume that she was to sing the solo part. The two lowest string parts were for two cellos or for cello and double bass. The latter is the scoring in this recording. Here an organ has been added for the harmonic realization, although that is not specifically indicated in the score. The scoring and the surroundings in which this setting was to be performed explains its rather intimate and introspective character. It is not so strongly influenced by opera as Pergolesi's Stabat mater, and there are far less striking depictions of the text. Pergolesi, for instance, illustrates the scourging of Jesus in the string parts. That is not the case here. The solo part is also more embedded into the string texture. This justifies the rather restrained approach in this performance. That said, the emotions of the text are certainly expressed in Boccherini's setting, and I think that this aspect is not fully explored by Amaryllis Dieltiens. She has a beautiful voice and delivers a very fine performance. Even so, I wonder whether this kind of music is really her cup of tea. In comparison, Roberta Invernizzi's performance with the ensemble Archibudelli (Sony, 2003) is more passionate and shows a broader range of vocal colours at the service of expression.

The same goes for the two concert arias. Again, Ms Dieltiens sings them nicely, and especially in the performance of Deh respirar lasciatemi she brings some drama into her performance. However, I feel that more could be made of these arias by a singer who is at home in opera. The instrumentalists are also too modest and could have played with more zest. A performance with one instrument per part seems rather implausible as is the use of an organ in the basso continuo. The Sonata in B flat is nicely played, but here again the performers are too restrained.

To sum up, despite the many excellent qualities of this recording, not the least the fine singing by Amaryllis Dieltiens, these pieces by Boccherini don't receive the best possible interpretations here, as they are a little short on expression.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

Relevant links:

Amaryllis Dieltiens
Capriola Di Gioia


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