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"La Passione - Luigi Boccherini, Joseph Haydn"

Erich Höbarth, violina; Stefano Veggetti, cellob
Ensemble Cordia
Dir: Erich Höbarth

rec: May 9, 2013 (live), Bozen, Konzerthaus
fra bernardo - fb1408381 (© 2015) (75'04")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Score Boccherini G 480
Scores Haydn

Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805): Concerto for cello and strings in G (G 480)b; Symphony in d minor (G 522); Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in C (H VIIa,1)a; Symphony in e minor 'Trauer' (H I,44)

Luigi Boccherini was one of the major composers of his time. He was very productive and contributed to almost any genre in vogue. Even so, he is seldom mentioned in the same breath as the two great composers of the classical era: Haydn and Mozart. His works are not often performed in public - over many years of attending concerts I have never heard any of his works - and the number of discs devoted to his oeuvre is also limited in comparison to the many Mozart and Haydn releases every year. Boccherini's name is especially connected to the cello, his own instrument for which he produced such a large number of works, either in a solo role - concertos, sonatas - or in a prominent role in ensemble. The latter refers to the many string quintets with two cello parts - one of them particularly demanding - and other genres of chamber music for strings. One would think that this is enough reason for cellists to explore his output but it seems that there are strongly diverging opinions on Boccherini. Some cellists love him and frequently play him - the Dutch cellist Anner Bijlsma has always been one of his sternest supporters - whereas others seem to avoid his music like the plague.

In the light of this it is remarkable that recently several discs have been released with compositions of various scorings. The most notable of these is probably the recording of a live concert by the Ensemble Cordia in which Haydn and Boccherini figure alongside each other. This way the latter is given his rightful place. The programme opens with a symphony, a genre for which Boccherini is not particularly known. But he composed at least 27 of them, and some have become quite well-known, for instance the fourth from the op. 12 set, with the nickname La casa del diavolo, and the Symphony in c minor, op. 41. The Symphony in d minor (G 522) is far less known, and this recording seems to be the very first on period instruments. It dates from 1792 and was published six years later by the composer as Sinfonia a grande orchestra. The title doesn't refer to the number of instruments needed - that was seldom indicated - but rather to the scoring for a full orchestra of strings and wind. The first movement has the tempo indication allegro assai vivo but in fact opens with a slow introduction, just like many of Haydn's symphonies. The third movement is a menuet and trio; the trio consists of episodes for a pair of horns and for solo violin. In the last movement which opens with a short adagio and then turns to allegro Boccherini reuses thematic material from the first.

The second work by Boccherini is the Concerto for cello, strings and bc in G (G 480), one of at least 11 cello concertos; several others are of doubtful authenticity. This concerto dates from 1770 and is one of his best-known. The expressive adagio has been taken for a 'new' concerto in B flat, surrounded by fast movements from other concertos. That concerto has been often recorded but is definitely not authentic. It is much to be preferred to hear this movement as part of the concerto to which it belongs. The fast movements are lively and energetic. Both movements include a cadenza.

Stefano Veggetto delivers a fine performance and receives good support from the orchestra. However, the cadenzas are a bit exaggerated. In the first movement it takes about 50 seconds, in the third even around 70. This seems more suitable for a concerto from a later time. The symphony is played with vigour and energy; the obbligato parts are perfectly realized. The importance of this recording can hardly be overstated.

The other two works are by Haydn, and especially the Symphony in e minor (H I,44) has been often recorded. If we take ArkivMusic as a reliable source, the number of recordings brings it at the level of the Paris symphonies. Its popularity is probably due its nickname, Trauer, and the fact that Haydn wanted the adagio to be played at his funeral - which indeed happened. It was probably this which gave the symphony its nickname; it was first used in 1868 in an edition of the publisher André. The work is generally numbered among the Sturm und Drang symphonies in Haydn's oeuvre, roughly speaking from the period 1768-1774. Its main feature is a strong amount of restlessness and wavering between different Affekte. That comes to the fore in this symphony as well.

The second work from Haydn's pen is the Concerto for violin in C, the first of three extant violin concertos. Solo concertos don't belong to the main part of Haydn's oeuvre; only some of his keyboard concertos and the two cello concertos have become part of the standard repertoire. This is probably due to the fact that Haydn - as he admitted himself - was no virtuoso on any instrument. The first two violin concertos were written for Luigi Tomasini who entered the service of the Esterházy court at the age of 16. He was also to play a major role in the performance of Haydn's early string quartets which explains that in these the first violin often plays a kind of obbligato role. Tomasini's skills are especially required in the last movement which is technically the most demanding. The solo part includes various passages with double stopping. In the expressive adagio the violin is mostly accompanied by tutti strings playing pizzicato. Erich Höbarth, best-known as primarius of the Quatuor Mosaïques, gives an excellent account of the solo part. Again I am in doubt about the length of the cadenza in the first movement. The Ensemble Cordia is best-known as an ensemble for chamber music; I have rated several of their recordings positively. In the format of an orchestra they make an equally good impression. There are perhaps some rough edges here and there, but that is part of a live performance. One issue needs to be mentioned: the use of a harpsichord. It is known that Haydn usually omitted it from his own performances of his symphonies. It seems also questionable whether Boccherini used a harpsichord in his orchestral works. In this production the recording further emphasizes its presence. This aspect of performance practice isn't given enough thought by interpreters.

That said, this is a fine disc with a mixture of familiar and lesser-known works. Especially the Boccherini symphony deserves a warm welcome.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Cordia

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