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8.553572 - BOCCHERINI: Cello Concertos Nos. 5-8
Luigi Boccherini was born in Tuscany, in the beautiful old walled town of Lucca, to a cultured family. His elder brother Giovanni Gastone, distinguished as a dancer and choreographer, was also a poet and wrote opera libretti for Salieri, among others, and the text of Joseph Haydn's oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia. His sister, a dancer in Vienna, married Onorato Vigano and was the mother of the famous dancer and choreographer Salvatore Vigano. His father was a professional double bass player and Luigi Boccherini himself made his debut as a cellist at the age of thirteen. In 1757 he went to study in Rome but had only been there a few months when both he and his father were summoned to Vienna to play in the court orchestra. Although barely fifteen years old, his performance apparently made a deep impression on the Viennese musical establishment, which suggests that this reportedly very amiable and affable young virtuoso had plenty of opportunity to shine as a soloist in concertos and in chamber music.
From this time onwards Boccherini's life was a very busy one and involved much travelling. He returned to Lucca on various occasions, finally, in 1764, taking up a position in the musical establishment and retaining his connection there for the following three years. In 1766 he embarked on an extended concert tour with the Lucca violinist Filippo Manfredi, reaching Paris in 1767. Here he had some of his works published and appeared with Manfredi at the Concerts spirituels, among other engagements. It was seemingly in 1768 that Boccherini and Manfredi travelled to Madrid, probably with the promise of enthusiastic patronage from the Spanish court. Boccherini's principal patron was the Spanish Infante Don Luis for whom he wrote many new works. In the circumstances in which he found himself he was able to continue his particular interest in chamber music, as shown in his first Paris publications, embarking on his famous series of string quintets. Boccherini followed the Infante Don Luis to Avila and after the latter's death was granted a pension of half his salary by the King. In 1786 he was appointed chamber composer to the heir to the Prussian throne, an enthusiastic amateur cellist, who in the following year succeeded his uncle as Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. There is no record. However, of any visit by Boccherini to the court in Berlin. He sought a renewal of his appointment in 1798, after the death of the king, but this was not granted. According to later members of his family Boccherini was offered a teaching position at the new Conservatoire in Paris, where his music enjoyed considerable esteem, but graciously declined the offer. In Madrid, however, he had for some years enjoyed the support of private patrons and was employed by the French ambassador to Spain. Lucien Bonaparte, who reached Madrid late in 1800.
Throughout his life Boccheriui pursued his concert career with enormous energy and at the same time wrote a quite unbelievable amount of music. In his last years, no longer playing but still composing. he appeared to be living in reduced circumstances. in some financial difficulties and no doubt suffering from the recent death of his second wife and also of two daughters. He died in 1805.
Boccheriui made an incomplete thematic catalogue of his own works but this was destroyed in the turmoil of the Spanish civil war. Only in 1969 did Yves Gerard publish a new catalogue of the complete reuvre, listing eleven concertos. The twelfth cello concerto was only discovered in 1987 in a library in Naples. The twelve known cello concertos are all probably quite youthful works, written before he settled in Madrid. These works exploit virtuoso technique, a prominent feature of which is the use of extremely fast passage-work in the very highest registers of the instrument. sometimes with additional double-stopping to provide the performer with even greater difficulties.
The title page of Cello Concerto No.5 in E flat major reads: 'Concerto per Grande Orchestra per il Violoncello', although the orchestra is the quite usual one of two oboes, two horns and strings. However, the tuttis in this work do have a quite full, rich sound, reduced, as in all these concertos, to chamber-like sonorities to accompany the solo cello.
The opening movement is an expansive sonata form with an extended development section. The solo cello's presentation of the principal subject features a low arpeggiated figure which is developed later in alternating dialogue with a higher melodic line. This 'conversational' feature is taken up and developed in the cadenza to this movement. The Largo opens with some surprising chromaticisms in the orchestra but with the entry of the solo cello we are treated to a broad melodic line, beautifully extended and somewhat Handelian in spirit. The rondo Finale has great panache and is a real display piece. After the third of the four appearances of the ebullient main theme the third episode features a dazzling display of cellistic virtuosity before the cadenza and the vivacious coda which ends this work.
Cello Concerto No.6 in A major is a shorter work whose first movement is a transcription of the composer's own Cello Sonata No. 1 in the same key. So the cello enters after only ten bars with a repetition of the principal subject. The second subject features double stopping with faster passage work set against a sustained note which gives a momentary flavour of the musette. The Adagio is a simple, gracious movement, opening with a theme featuring elegant appoggiaturas. When the solo cello echoes this theme the melodic shape is quite altered while the distinctive rhythm is retained. The Allegro Rondo displays its main theme six times, three each for cello and for orchestra. In the first episode there are some leap-frogging forays into the lower register of the cello, noticeable here since so much of Boccherini's cello writing is extremely high in the instrument's tessitura.
Concerto No.7 in D major is on a larger scale than Concerto No 6, and its two flutes create quite a different sonority. The opening orchestral tutti is already quite expansive and includes several thematic ideas. Some of the themes here are shaped to allow a conversational interplay between the two flutes and the upper strings which becomes a feature of this concerto.
In the following Largo the clear, simple harmonies are a backcloth for the cello to weave delicate arabesques at quicksilver speed round the slowly changing chords. The Finale (Allegro con piacere) is loosely constructed, its rondo-like theme giving rise to varied continuations on its four appearances.
Some controversy surrounds Concerto No.8 in D major but from an ambiguously written note in the Prague manuscript the best surmise is that the two final rondos are in fact alternatives to be added to the first two movements. The Allegro con spirito opens with the theme of the first cello concerto in C major, (just one of a number of borrowings in this work). However, the original theme is much extended and the whole movement is on a larger scale than the earlier work. The rather stately Larghetto is noteworthy for its telling chromaticisms which dissolve into sequences of suspensions beautifully poised and expressive of a refined melancholy.
The Rondo (Comodo assai), in three/four time, begins for all the world like an aristocratic minuet with all the formal repetitions this entails, but as the movement unfolds this is revealed as a more expansive and episodic piece which returns to its opening theme three times. The 'alternative' Rondo (printed as movement three in the published score) is an extended piece with an episode in the tonic minor key and an earlier, brief but delightful episode largely given to wind sonorities - quite a surprising moment in this context!
John Marlow Rhys
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
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