musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Sonatas & Capricci for cello

[I] Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743 - 1805): "Vol. 2 - Sonate per il violoncello"
Les Basses Réunis
Dir: Bruno Cocset

rec: Oct 28 - Nov 2, 2017, Vannes (F), Chapelle Auditorium des Carmes
Alpha - 409 (© 2018) (67'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in c minor (G 2)ad; Sonata in F (G 1)abc; Sonata in G (G 5)ab; Sonata in A (G 13)ab; Sonata in B flat (G 12)abd

Bruno Cocseta, Emmanuel Jacquesb, cello; Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichordc; Maude Gratton, fortepianod

[II] Joseph Marie Clément Ferdinand DALL'ABACO (1710-1805): Capricci a Violoncello Solo
Francesco Galligioni, cello
rec: Oct 17 - 18, 2017, Nigoline di Corte Franca (BS), Chiesa di Sant'Eufemia
Brilliant Classics - 95762 (© 2018) (51'52")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Joseph Marie Clément Ferdinand DALL'ABACO: Capriccio I in c minor; Capriccio II in g minor; Capriccio III in E flat; Capriccio IV in d minor; Capriccio V in B flat; Capriccio VI in e minor; Capriccio VII in B flat; Capriccio VIII in G; Capriccio IX in C; Capriccio X in A; Capriccio XI in F; Jean-Daniel BRAUN (fl c 1728-1740): Suite for transverse flute (fantasia; fantasia [vivace]; largo & double; minuetto; minuetto)

The origins of the cello as we know it today, are in the late 17th century. Among the first composers of music for the instruments were Domenico Gabrielli, Pietro Franceschini and Giuseppe Maria Jacchini. They all played the cello themselves, and so did Antonio Caldara, who composed a number of cello sonatas. That is the case with most composers of music for the cello. The main exception is Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote only a few sonatas, but a large number of concertos for the instrument. Some of these may be the result of commissions by aristocratic amateur players, others were probably written for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà.

Vivaldi's concertos bear witness to the growing popularity of the cello. In the course of the 18th century it overshadowed the viola da gamba in most countries, much to the chagrin of the defenders of this aristocratic instrument par excellence. Yves Gérard, in his liner-notes to the Alpha disc, mentions an example of this change of taste. Prince Frederick William of Prussia, successor to Frederick the Great, was a great lover of the viola da gamba and elected the French virtuoso Jean-Baptiste Forqueray as his tutor. But having heard the Italian cellist Carlo Graziani, he fell in love with the cello and abandoned the viol. By October 1783 he was in contact with Luigi Boccherini and wrote him: "Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Signor Boccherini, than to receive compositions of your own, now that I am able to perform them." In 1786 he appointed Boccherini as 'Composer of Our Chamber', and he remained the composer's patron until his own death in 1797. At that time Boccherini was in the service of the Spanish court in Madrid.

For several years he played as a soloist and as the cellist of a string quartet in several places across Europe. He and his colleague, the violinist Filippo Manfredi, were in Paris in 1768 and planned to go to London. However, they went to Madrid instead as they had been promised posts there by the Spanish ambassador. Boccherini spent the rest of his life in Spain which had a lasting influence on the development of his compositional style. Especially the many string quintets were composed during that time.

Although Boccherini was one of the main composers of the classical era, his status is not comparable with that of his contemporaries Haydn and Mozart. A large part of his oeuvre is hardly known. Those which receive most attention are the string quintets and the cello concertos. Some of his cello sonatas are part of the standard repertoire of cellists as they were printed - albeit in an 'unauthentic' edition - in the 19th century. However, most of them are seldom played and recorded. As far as I know only once they have been recorded complete (Luigi Puxeddu; Brilliant Classics, 2009). The largest part of his output in this genre has been preserved in copies; only a few are probably in Boccherini's own handwriting. The catalogue of Boccherini's oeuvre, put together by Yves Gérard, includes 29 sonatas; since it was published, some further sonatas have been found. These probably date from his time in Spain, whereas the sonatas in Gérard's catalogue date from much earlier in his career.

They were almost certainly intended for his own use. It is documented that he performed some of his sonatas in Vienna with his father, who played the cello and the double bass. This justifies a performance, in which the bass part - which is unfigured - is performed on a second cello. Two of the sonatas recorded by Bruno Cocset are played this way. In the other sonatas a keyboard instrument is involved, with a cello as string bass. Interesting here is the use of a fortepiano. Maude Gratton plays a copy of an instrument by Stein; in the Sonata in c minor the instrument has a mechanism with wooden hammers, whereas in the Sonata in B flat leather-covered hammers are used. Unfortunately Cocset only mentions this in his notes in the booklet, without further discussing the issue. It would have been interesting to hear more about this aspect of performance practice.

Bruno Cocset is one of the main forces in the world of the baroque cello, and as one may expect he delivers outstanding performances: technically brilliant, and in an interpretation which is full of energy and imagination. Sometimes he tends to go over the top; I wonder whether the opening chord of the allegro from the Sonata in c minor, which returns several times during the movement, has to be so loud. In the slow movements he inserts a cadenza, sometimes a pretty long one. I wonder whether this is based on any indications in the score. As I have no access to the music, I can't check. So, this recording raises some questions, but the main thing is that these sonatas by Boccherini are brought to our attention and that Cocset demonstrates their musical quality. It is time that Boccherini is treated more fairly by the music industry.

The second disc is devoted to a composer who is far less known, and whose oeuvre is also much smaller. Joseph Marie Clément Ferdinand dall'Abaco was born in Brussels, where his father, the slightly better-known Evaristo Felice, worked at the time. The latter sent his son to Venice for his musical education. After his return he was a member of the electoral chapel in Bonn from 1729. Apparently he was allowed to travel across Europe as a cello virtuoso; he made appearances in this capacity in London and Vienna. In 1753 he settled in Verona.

Dall'Abaco composed some sonatas, but Francesco Galligioni decided to record his eleven Capricci. He is not the first; Cocset recorded them before, and others also have included some of these pieces in their recordings. They have been preserved in a copy, which probably dates from after the composer's death. It includes some errors, and there is also some speculation about the fact that the set includes eleven pieces, whereas such collections usually came in sets of six or twelve during the 17th and 18th centuries. It has been suggested that Dall'Abaco may have written twelve, and that it is due to the sloppiness of the copyist that only eleven have been preserved. That could also be the reason that the Capriccio XI is incomplete.

The performer has also to deal with the fact that these pieces don't include any indications in regard to their character or even the tempi. That means that the interpreter has to make his own choices. Interestingly, Francesco Passadore, in his liner-notes, refers to the Capriccio VIII as standing out for its length. In this performance the Capriccio VII takes more time, and that is certainly the effect of the choice of tempo (andante) on the part of Galligioni. The latter is not the only one, in his notes on the performance, who observes the influence of Bach's cello suites. He suggests that Dall'Abaco must have been familiar with these pieces.

His own pieces are just as technically demanding, and as the term capriccio suggests, they have marked improvisatory traits. That comes perfectly off in Galligioni's performance. He deals with the technical requirements with impressive ease, but does not forget to make music. These Capricci may probably have been intended as pedagogical material, but they don't lack musical substance.

In between Galligioni plays some pieces by the French composer Jean Daniel Braun. They are taken from a suite for transverse flute solo. It is included in a collection, which includes other pieces for flute solo, which can also be played on the bassoon. And as that instrument and the cello were largely interchangeable, Galligioni took the freedom to play these movements on the cello. They are quite different from Dall'Abaco's Capricci and it is very clear that they are not intended for the cello. They sound very well on it, though, and because of their more lyrical character they bring a nice variety into the programme.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Les Basses Réunis

CD Reviews