Les Basses Reunies
Bruno Cocset, violoncelle concertant
Emmanuel Jacques, violoncelle & tenor de violon
Mathurin Matharel, violoncelle & tenor de violon
Richard Myron, contrebasse
Xavier Diaz-Latorre, guitare
Lucas Guglielmi, clavecin
Enregistre en decembre 2004
Chapelle Notre-Dame de Bon Secours
Prise de son : Alessandra Galleron
On the cover:
Luis Eugenio Melendez (1716-1780)
Portrait de l'artiste tenant une academie, 1746
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Commentaires de Denis Grenier
========= from the cover ==========
For the musician of the eighteenth century, the need to travel in order to extend his knowledge or have his playing heard elsewhere sometimes meant having to cope with unexpected situations or circumstances that called for great versatility and resourcenalness. We know, for example, that Luigi Boccherini appeared in Vienna, with his father, a double-bass player, providing the only accompaniment, and that later he played in Paris with his friend Manfredi accompanying him, in his solo cello parts, on the violin!
Several versions of various pieces have been found, either as simple sonatas or as more or less elaborate concertos, attesting to the wealth of different possibilities that are available for the performance of these works.
Thus, for this recording devoted to Luigi Boccherini, I imagined the composer meeting up with the members of Les Basses Reunies, stopping off, or rather making a detour, on his way from Paris to Madrid to visit us at my home in Brittany!
More seriously, a desire to vary the programme of this recording, both in colour and texture of sound and in its narrative and musical substance, led me to add two concertos to the three sonatas initially chosen.
In two of the sonatas, A major and C major, a second cello plays the written bass part, which makes frequent use of double-stopping.
For the sonata in B flat major, of which there is also a concerto version, I chose to bring together a double bass and a guitar in order to bring out the unbridled, operatic character of the piece.
As for the concertos, when we find two versions of the same piece, a sonata version and a concerto version, I did as Boccherini did: I removed the tutti in the first and third movements, thus obtaining a sonata form in two sections with a reprise of the first (A), a da capo and sometimes a cadenza that does not always encourage the repeat of the B parts. Without the tutti, the final rondo of the Concerto in A major retains its natural form of theme and contrasting episodes.
On the other hand, my decision to instrument the orchestral parts rather than reduce them to a simple continuo part enabled me to leave the slow movements in their entirety, respecting the succession of tutti and soli for the Concerto in A major. The choice, for the instrumentation of the accompanying parts, of a tenor violin and a second cello, in addition to the continuo, makes it possible to play these concertos with one instrument per part while keeping the balance between the voices, the tenor playing like a violin a third or a sixth above the concerted cello part, thus recapturing the spirit of the eighteenth-century trio or quartet sonata.
To serve this music, in which the cello constantly imitates the violin and often flirts with the very high register, Charles Riche made a cello with the distinctive feature of having clear sound and rich timbre in the high register. In order to find a voice that is free, very clear and also sensuous, we combined the traditional body of the cello with a back inspired by the viola bastarda of Amati: slightly arched, bent, and with a sound post plate.
Thanks to Xavier Diaz-Latorre for his complicity in working out the cadenza in the final movement of the Sonata in B flat major.
- Bruno Cocset (Baden, May 2005)
On 31 August 1805 an article in the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung paid tribute to Luigi Boccherini, who had died in Madrid on 28 May of that year. The writer evoked the composer's long career, praised the originality of his musical style, and finally mentioned that 'he was also, in the more distant past, an excellent cellist, capable of enrapturing audiences with the matchless sound and expressive melodiousness of his playing'. Indeed, some forty years previously, in the years 1760-1770, the young Boccherini had been at the height of his skills as a virtuoso cellist. First of all under the aegis of his father, the double-bass player Leopoldo Boccherini, then in the company of the older violinist Filippo Manfredi, he had appeared in Lucca in 1756, then in Milan, Vienna (several times), Genoa, Paris (where he played at the Concert Spirituel on 20 March 1768), before charming his future employer Don Luis, the Spanish Infante and younger brother of Charles III, and settling in Madrid.
Little knowing that their customary laconicism was to frustrate future historians and musicians, chroniclers of the time rarely said much more about those concerts than: 'Mr Boccherini performed masterfully on the cello a sonata of his own composition'. So we know very little about Boccherini, the famous virtuoso cellist. Moreover, it is almost as if he went out of his way to keep that aspect of his career in shadow. From 1760 to the end of his life he maintained a thematic catalogue of his compositions, but (surprisingly) he excluded from that catalogue about thirty sonatas for his own instrument, each bearing the title Sonata per violoncello solo e basso. The lack of autograph manuscripts for these works leaves us with many unanswered questions as to authenticity, date, style and performance. As for the six cello sonatas published in England and later arranged for violin in French editions during Boccherini's lifetime, we do not know whether they received the composer's approval or whether they were 'pirated' for the pleasure of cellists and violinists of the time.
The cello concertos were not really treated any better. Of the dozen or so known to have been written by Boccherini, four were published in Paris in May 1770 and October 1771, shortly after his stay there. But none of those four concertos appears in his catalogue, which lists only one, his Cello Concerto op.34 in D major (G483), which was published by Artaria in Vienna, probably in 1785.
The uncertainties of this corpus leave musicians and musicologists somewhat at a loss. It is possible to authenticate some of these cello sonatas and concertos by studying their thematic links with other works of established authenticity (trios, quartets, quintets). As for questions of style and performance, the only possibility is to adopt radical, non-systematic -and obviously experimental - solutions.
That is the case with the five works presented on this recording. The movements have been authenticated by comparison with other works of Boccherini. And much thought has been given to the different possibilities for accompaniment, the aim being to respect the text while providing variety in the sound and keeping within the bounds of contemporary practices.
These three sonatas and two concertos - the latter orchestrated for string quartet, with no wind instruments, and therefore easily reduced for basso continuo - have many things in common. Like almost all of Boccherini's sonatas and concertos, they follow a three-movement pattern, fast-slow-fast, with the last movement frequently a rondo. Moreover, specific stylistic features distinguish each of the movements. The first movements generally open with the statement of a dreamy, undulating, melodious theme over sinuous lines of ornamentation, soon combined with more lyrical moments, which are interrupted by sudden virtuosic sequences, in which the composer has the cellist playing at high speed (using double stops) or exploring the instrument's high register. The slow movement expresses intense lyricism and in the final rondo a lively theme, sometimes inspired by the dance, provides an excuse for displays of voluble virtuosity.
The Sonata in B flat major (G565) is by far the most elaborate. Those who are well acquainted with the music of Boccherini will immediately be reminded of the well-known Concerto in B flat major, familiar in the regrettable arrangement published by Griitzmacher in 1895 that was responsible for making the famous Minuet widely known. Here, in a version that is true to the original, rather than to Grutzmacher's orchestral travesty, we find the two fast movements as part of a sonata, as they appear in an eighteenth-century manuscript. The amazing slow movement consists of three fragments, each played at a different tempo: the usual Largo, very lyrical, then a sudden Allegro which appears to be announcing the finale but is in fact part of the Largo, and then a brief Adagio phrase that finally introduces the last movement.
The Concerto in G major (G480), on the other hand, presents the original version of the slow movement that Grutzmacher used for the Concerto in B flat major mentioned above. In its stylistic features the opening Allegro is typical of Boccherini's first sonata and concerto movements as analysed earlier. In the very fine Adagio the melody, accompanied by regular chords, is poignant and peacefully lyrical; it opens with a long sustained note, emerging from the scale passages of the bass. The final Allegro is in fact a rondo, in which a dance theme reappears regularly, providing the soloist with an opportunity for ornamentation and swift virtuosic passages.
The first movement of the other Concerto in G major (G475) is based on a theme that also appears in the Sonata per violoncello solo e basso in the same key (G13) - showing once more, as with the previous sonata, the kinship that exists between Boccherini's sonatas and concertos. In the Adagio a theme, regularly reprised by the tutti is contrasted with the varied but always lyrical solo parts. In the last movement, a short Rondo, the tutti and soli constantly complement one another, rather than being in contrast.
The other two sonatas have no connection with concertos but with other works by Boccherini that appear in his personal catalogue.
The theme of the first movement of the Sonata in A major (G4) also appears in a sextet for strings and flute of 1773 and as the 'violoncello solo' part in a concert aria for soprano from Metastasio's Artaxerxes, 'Se d'un amor tiranno', dating from around 1775. The elements of the Adagio convey an ardent lyricism, which Boccherini nourishes expressively with sustained notes, double stops, and unexpected modulations and formulas. The final Affettuoso, in rondo form, is based on an initial formula that enables the composer to explore a great variety of developments.
The Largo theme of the Sonata in C major (G17) is also found in a trio of 1772. The final Rondo allegro is a perpetuum mobile in which the performer's only respite comes in the brief episode in minor, which is followed by a furiously virtuosic conclusion.
The expressiveness and variety of Boccherini's texts and the skill they require of the performer make it even harder to understand why he deliberately excluded this part of his output from his catalogue. Was it because he wished to keep the (intransmissible?) secrets of his playing to himseli? We know from the violinists Viotti and Boucher that Boccherini was exceedingly demanding when it came to the performance of his own chamber works. Are we to understand his omission as an indication that these are the works in which he believed he had given of his best? His trios, quartets and quintets already include some very elaborate parts for the cello. Would this be the 'true face' of Boccherini the cellist? Be that as it may, we know that he enchanted his contemporaries with his performances of his own works. Like the Leipzig Zeitung mentioned at the beginning of this text, the Gazette musicale de Paris of August 1805 evoked the musician of the years 1760-1770, stating that Boccherini was 'a marvellous-cellist. Above all he charmed us with his incomparable sound and with the very expressive tunefulness of his playing.'
- Yves Gerard (June 2005)