BOCCHERINI: Musica notturna delle Strade di Madrid = String Quintet in C Major, Op. 30, No. 6; String Quintet No. 6 in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5; String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 32, No. 5; Guitar Quintet No. 6 in D Major, G. 448 – Cuarteto Casals/Eckart Runge, cello/Carles Trepat, guitar/Daniel Tummer, castanets – Harmonia mundi HMC 902092, 77:00 ****:
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) composed his programmatic C Major Quintet “Night Music in the streets of Madrid,” G. 324 in 1780 in the remote town of Arenas de San Pedro near Avila. Likely, Boccherini intended to raise some nostalgia in his patron, the Spanish infante Don Luis, who had been banished from Madrid. In seven sections fused into four movements, the piece depicts “the music heard at night in the streets of Madrid, from the bells sounding the Ave Maria to the Retreat. . .[in an] attempt at an accurate representation of reality.” The third movement offers a Minuet of “the blind beggars,” so the cellists must place their instruments on their knees like a guitar and strum the strings with their fingernails. The Retreat demands crescendo and decrescendo effects to announce the military curfew, the guards walking past in the company of musicians.
Razor-sharp attacks introduce rustic “street sounds” and hurdy-gurdy effects in heavy-footed rhythm, a striking blend of folksy harmony. “Il Rosario” depicts the Rosary prayer, a Largo assai of exquisite beauty in long-breathed periods and a modicum of plucked notes that suddenly breaks out into momentary passion, Allegro. The second cello adds some deeply intoned passing harmonies. The brief “Los manolos” movement depicts youthful male dandies who lay their guitars to attract various kinds of attention. The violin playing absorbs the Cremona school of virtuosity, while the lively strumming accompanies a full-fledged cello melody. The “Ritarata” movement is marked Maestoso, an aggressive series of gestures in swooping figures. The gradual decrescendo moved the procession into the Iberian distance. Sonically spectacular, this piece deserves a place on the audiophile shelf for any lover of pre-Classical ingenuity. The E Major String Quintet, G. 275 (1771) has enjoyed undiminished popularity ever since music-lovers discovered its celebrated Minuet. The opening movement, Amoroso, establishes the wondrous sound of the string quintet, which Boccherini and Gaetano Brunetti literally invented. The bustling Allegro con spirito moves in lusciously melodic figures–in a rondo structure–we might attribute to Tartini or the Lombardic school of Vivaldi. The Minuet fulfills its expectation of enchantment in most diaphanous harmony. That it alone “typified” Boccherini as the “galant Composer per excellence” is history’s error. The last movement Andante gambols along in semi-martial periods, the added cello once again adding its melodic kernels.
The G Minor String Quartet, G. 205 (1780) came to the music world via the Viennese music publisher Artaria, perhaps as a complement to the many Haydn models that set the term “Classicism” in stone. The first violin–Abel Tomas Realp–has a significant concertante part in the two outer movements, the last movement’s incorporating a full-fledged cadenza for the instrument. The Andantino second movement conveys a singularly meditative Baroque affect, although the “warbling” figures could suggest either consolations or distractions of Nature. The C Minor Menuetto has a gloomy cast that makes recall Mozart’s uses for minor modalities. Close imitation in the parts adds to the austerity of the tone. The C Major Trio is marked “dolcissimo e smorfioso” to provide emotional contrast. A nervous siciliano rhythm only undermines our confidence before the dark points of the da capo return. Marked Allegro gusto, the busy 2/4 last movement opens in subdued tones, but the first violin and cello–Arnau Tomas Realp–engage in heated flurries. The cadenza might in part remind some auditors of the famous Bach Chaconne.
Boccherini’s D Major Guitar Quintet (1798) exists as a transcription of movements arranged from two prior string quintets. Guitar enthusiast, the Marquis Benavente, commissioned the arrangement. A gurgling Pastorale opens the work, with drone effects and a steady ostinato, quite reminiscent of the Summer Concerto from Vivaldi. The Allegro maestoso features another concertante violin part to sing in dialogue with the strumming guitar. The cello picks up the energy, and the diverse parts enjoy some equality of interest. Both violin and cello sing in their harmonics registers, the ornaments fluttering about while the cello intones the melody. The guitar part seems ornamental, more a matter of timbre than melodically substantive. The lengthy last movement: Grave assai-Fandango–provides the color commentary that defines the piece. The swirl of the fandango gathers veronicas and assembled turns and ornaments until it swells, sighs, and recedes at will, always lulling us with its ardent mystique. By the time Senor Tummer introduces his castanets, the eddying momentum has us enamored of the gypsy life.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich