It has taken a long time for Jordi Savall to get around to the music of Luigi Boccherini, an Italian composer who, nevertheless, looms very large in the old Spanish music of which Savall is such an eloquent advocate. If the AliaVox release Luigi Boccherini: Fandango, Sinfonie & La Music Notturna di Madrid is any indication of Savall's potential in interpreting the music of Boccherini, then it was well worth the wait. Best known outside of Europe for his ubiquitous Minuet in A, Boccherini is often misunderstood as a fancy-pants composer of sugary confections for the court a la Dittersdorf, but anyone who knows his String Quartets, Op. 32, or any of the works belonging to this carefully chosen program already knows that Boccherini's music has some teeth.
The soloists, drawn from within Savall's group Le Concert des Nations, are superb in this music; Bruno Cocset has the all-important cello parts, which Boccherini himself would have played, and lutenist Rolf Lislevand delivers the guitar solo in the Fandango with a dashing, yet sensitive touch. Boccherini's much-loved, but seldom-recorded La Musica Notturna della Strade di Madrid gets its best ever recording here, stylish in presentation yet not downplaying some of the grit in Boccherini's score. An additional surprise here is a stormy D minor symphony from 1787 worthy of the best proto-Romantic Sturm und Drang efforts one might expect from C.P.E. Bach and Haydn's middle-period symphonies; the A major symphony is a lighter and more typical piece, but is substantial nonetheless.
Boccherini's dance and character pieces sound oddly modern, not in a "Stravinsky-like" sense, but in an "upbeat and contemporary" one. Some of the music, if played with too lush an ensemble, can take on an unintended travelogue-like feel, and one is not sure that Savall fully avoids this in the slow sections of the Fandango. On the other hand, these same portions are also among the most radio-friendly on this disc, and do draw the listener into the music. For those who continue to wonder what the Classical period has to offer outside of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, AliaVox's Luigi Boccherini: Fandango, Sinfonie & La Music Notturna di Madrid offers a resounding, and at times, giddily intoxicating answer.
All Music Guide
Jordi Savall's superb musical taste and curiosity almost invariably focus on Spain (Bach and Monteverdi notwithstanding). The Italian Luigi Boccherini first went there in 1768 and he immediately found a creative home. For several reasons, musical life had begun to thrive in Madrid and other cities not only at court and with the aristocracy, but among the "people" as well. After performing at Aranjuez and Valencia, in 1770 Boccherini was appointed by royal decree as member of the household to the Infante. There he composed chamber works, a Stabat Mater, even a Zarzuela; this recording features four of the works he penned between 1780 and 1790.
The Guitar Quintet, with its fandango final movement (which includes castanets), is as famous as any other piece of late -18th-century chamber music. Boccherini is sometimes seen as a rather prissy composer (he's been referred to as "Haydn's wife") because of how refined and graceful his music tends to be, but refinement and grace do not preclude vitality, bounce, and/or catchy tunes. At any rate, he composed more than 500 works for solo instruments and orchestra in the last 40 years of his century, and if not all of them are superb, the four recorded here certainly are.
And Savall and soloists of Le Concert des Nations play the heck out them. As to the Guitar Quintet, Savall leads a passionate, fun-loving reading that is "popular" in the best sense: all stodginess is gone, attacks are bright and fast, and Rolf Lislevand's guitar playing is clear and has all the energy of an excitable street musician, with a rhythmic urgency that is highlighted even more by the castanets. The Quintettino, a programmatic piece in seven movements, reconstructs a night in Madrid. One movement has the violin imitating a drum; another, performed all in pizzicato, portrays the bells ringing the Ave Maria; yet another sounds the retreat of soldiers. The five instruments are differently highlighted by Boccherini-and Savall-and the consistencies keep changing. It's an irresistible work, brilliantly performed.
The D minor symphony will remind listeners of Haydn. It features flute, horns, and bassoons, and the second movement gives each of them moments in which to shine. It moves from major to minor modes frequently and keeps you on your toes; between moments of extroverted music-making come softer, spellbinding interludes. It's a turbulent work, very much in the Sturm und Drang mode that was just taking over European music at the time, and its upbeat finale, with strings swirling, is a wonderfully busy piece of composition. The A major sinfonia comes across as the perfect combination of symphony and chamber music, with contrasting sections of strings and winds and a great forward impetus. Boccherini's music always is full of charm; Savall, his musicians, and Alia Vox's engineers have turned these pieces into a great listening experience.
-Robert Levine (www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=9825)