musica Dei donum

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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743 - 1805): "Madrid"

Sandrine Piau, sopranoa; Ophélie Gaillard, cello; Rolf Lislevand, guitarb; Luz Martin Léon Tello, castanetsc; David Mayoral, percussiond; Maude Gratton, fortepiano
Dir: Ophélie Gaillard

rec: Jan 2007, Paris, Théâtre de Poissy; April 2007, Paris, Temple Notre-Dane du Bon-Secours
Ambroisie - AM 126 (CD, DVD) (© 2008) ([CD] 66'55"; [DVD] 47')

Concerto for cello and orchestra in D (G 483); Concerto for cello, strings and bc in G (G 480); Quintet for guitar, 2 violins, viola and cello in D (G 448): Fandangobcd; Se d'un amor tiranno, aria accademica for soprano, cello and orchestra (G 557)a

The French cellist Ophélie Gaillard is a great admirer of Luigi Boccherini. She writes about her passion in the form of an interview in the booklet and talks about it on the DVD. She planned a project with his music, and invited some musicians to play with her, some of which are from Spain, who are close to the culture which unmistakeably influenced Boccherini's music. The result is the present disc which contains two specimen from a genre he is famous for - the cello concerto - and an aria which is part of a much neglected side of Boccherini: the composer of vocal music. The disc opens with what is probably - apart from the menuet - Boccherini's most famous piece: the Fandango.

There can't be enough praise for a musician who is willing to explore the music of Boccherini, who is still at the sidelines of today's concert life, and wants to share her enthusiasm for his music with others. But being a lover of Boccherini's music I am not very impressed about the result of Ms Gaillard's efforts.

In a way it is understandable that a disc which aims to present a musical portrait of Boccherini starts with the Fandango. At the same time this piece is so often played that one wonders if it is really doing Boccherini a favour by recording it another time. It has to be said that this piece is not only often played, but also frequently mistreated. That is also the case here, not as severely as happens sometimes, but nevertheless I believe that the scoring in this recording is off the mark. The Fandango is the last movement of the Quintet for guitar and strings in D; in the Fandango Boccherini adds castanets. Here two guitars are playing, with additional percussion. I can't see any reason for that, in particular as Ms Gaillard in one of the documentaries on the DVD says that the strings try to imitate the percussion now and then. Then why add percussion? Moreover, towards the end a kind of improvisation of the two guitars and the percussion is inserted. I find this rather odd, and what is worse, the excitement which has built up during the performance just ebbs away.

The main part of this disc is devoted to cello concertos. It is disappointing that Ms Gaillard has chosen two of Boccherini's best-known cello concertos. This disc had been a worthwhile addition to the catalogue if some lesser-known concertos had been recorded. The performances are questionable in several ways. Firstly, Ms Gaillard has chosen to perform them with one instrument per part. That seems a rather strange decision. These cello concertos are specimen of the classical solo concerto, in which the soloist is not primus inter pares anymore, as in the baroque concerto. In this scoring the Concerto in G is almost reduced to a string quintet. In the booklet Ms Gaillard says a performance with one instrument per part "redefines the balance between soloists and orchestra and between wind and strings". That is certainly true, but here it doesn't do Boccherini's music any favour. In the Concerto in G, where the tutti consists of strings only, the solo part isn't as prominent as it should be. And in a concerto with wind, like the Concerto in D, it is perfectly possible to make the wind audible, without reducing the strings to one instrument per part. Here the wind even threaten to overshadow the strings.

Another debatable decision is to use a fortepiano in the basso continuo section. That is defensible in the case of the Concerto in D, which dates from about 1782, but hardly in regard to the Concerto in G, which was composed in 1770. At that time the harpsichord was still the dominant keyboard instrument.

But apart from all this I find the performances not very captivating, even a bit flat. That is partly due to the tempi, which are generally a little slow, in particular the fast movements but also the andante lentarello of the Concerto in D. Ms Gaillard rightly adds cadenzas in every movement. When I heard them I found them too long, but I gather from Ms Gaillard's remarks in the booklet that she uses Boccherini's own cadenza in the second movement of the Concerto in D, which is indeed pretty long. So maybe she is right in taking her time to play the cadenzas. Ms Gaillard imitates percussion towards the end of the cadenza in the last movement of the Concerto in G. Again I think she is wrong here: Boccherini's music contains influences of folk music, therefore I don't think interpreters should add some of their own. It is especially out of place in the cello concertos which contain few traces of folk music anyway.

The strings are using somewhat more vibrato than seems historically justified. Ophélie Gaillard's playing isn't bad at all, but the likes of Anner Bijlsma and Ivan Monighetti are definitely better in their respective recordings of cello concertos by Boccherini.

The most interesting part of this disc is the aria Se d'un amor tiranno. Boccherini's vocal music is largely neglected – with the exception of his Stabat mater – but he composed a fair number of vocal pieces, among them more than 10 solo arias. The voice and the cello are equals and it is certainly right that after the cadenza of the soprano in the dacapo the cello adds a cadenza of its own. This aria is anything but a dittie and requires a skilled singer. Sandrine Piau certainly is that, and she sings the aria quite beautifully. But I am surprised to read in the booklet that the dacapo and the cadenzas for Ms Piau were prepared by the player of the fortepiano, Maude Gratton. In the 18th century singers were supposed to invent their own material for such occasions, and I don't understand that Sandrine Piau, with her vast experience in singing 18th-century operas, isn't able to come up with her own ornamentation and cadenzas. I enjoyed Ms Gaillard's playing best in this aria. Maybe the singing of Sandrine Piau inspired her. In the documentary on the DVD she compares Boccherini's aria with the concert arias by Mozart. It is certainly true that Boccherini's arias deserve more attention, and that there is no reason why they shouldn't become standard repertoire for the sopranos of our time.

The DVD contains two documentaries. In the first Ophélie Gaillard talks about Boccherini and gives her view on his music. That is interesting but could easily have been written down in the booklet. Instead I had liked to see something more biographical about Boccherini, about the places where he has been working and the cultural environment which influenced him. After all, of the great composers of the classical era he is the least well-known. The second documentary shows the recording of the Fandango. It's nice to watch one time, but doesn't add very much to our knowledge of the composer or of this particular project. From that perspective the DVD is a kind of missed opportunity. The language is French, with English subtitles. These are clear to read, and seem pretty reliable. Only in the recording session some remarks by the players are not translated. I don't know if there was any specific reason for that ...

To sum up: an interesting project which falls short of the expectations.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Ophélie Gaillard

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