Boccherini Cello Concerti
The discovery of a twelfth Boccherini cello concerto in Naples spurred David Geringas on Claves and now Julius Berger to record the entire set (if indeed they may be thought of as such). Berger had the advantage of working with the Boccherini scholar Christian Speck, who carefully prepared the scores and, in particular, the cadenzas; he was also lucky to be able to record on Boccherini's own Strad, albeit not set up in original condition. These are modern performances and, particularly in the case of Berger, informed modern performances. Anner Bylsma (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)—the thoroughly modern 'period' player—and Steven Isserlis on Virgin Classics—who eschews steel strings and prima-donna antics—have recently recorded pairs of Boccherini concertos (each including the Concerto in G major, G480), but most remain little known.
Among the dozen, several stand out. The Concerto in D major, G479 with string orchestra gives particularly rich opportunities for beautiful solo timbres in the hauntingly high writing of the first movement and the richness of the alto-range theme in the second. The C major, G573, with oboes, trumpets and strings, dating from his period in Genoa (1766-7), incorporates a true cello solo, unaccompanied, of 30 bars, framed by the orchestra, as the Largo cantabile. There are, too, some lovely flautando phrases among Boccherini's usual array of virtuoso tricks in the Allegro comodo finale. For the A major, G475 we possess two Boccherini cadenzas; a third exists for the Andante lentarello of the Concerto in D major, G483, one of the better-known concertos which is memorable for the exquisite way in which Boccherini pairs the soloist with the oboes in the first and second movements.
The recently discovered Concerto in E flat (not in Gerard's catalogue), scored with oboes and horns, should become a favourite because of its vitality, its sustained melodious writing, its high tessitura and its quintessential wizardry. The stately C minor Largo will be familiar to those already acquainted with Boccherini's String Trio, G95 and Cello Sonata, G17, for he—like a number of other well-known eighteenth-century composers—was a compulsive self-borrower. Interestingly, there are also thematic connections between the first movement and that of the much loved Concerto in B flat, G482.
Although several of Boccherini's concertos were published as early as 1770, only the B flat has until now been widely known, and then not in its original version. Since the appearance of the Zanibon edition, edited by Aldo Pais, cellists and their students have had good reason to part with their nineteenth-century Grutzmacher editions of the B flat Concerto, confident of being able to play Boccherini's own version, if in a variety of works: the outer movements of G482 (like those of the Sonata, G565) are recognizably the same, though delightfully different in detail, while the Adagio that Grutzmacher borrowed has been returned to the Concerto in G major, G480 and the original Andantino grazioso restored, giving the Concerto in B flat a well-deserved freshness.
Julius Berger's recording of the complete extant Boccherini concertos is in many ways a landmark. The behind-the-scenes efforts of his colleague Dr Speck (whose accompanying booklet contains a wealth of information in a series of essays and lively programme-notes) have imbued these performances with an important new kind of credibility, so necessary in what seems to be the post-period instruments era. He is a fine player, though his tempos are never virtuosic (in some movements decidedly too bound to the pulse) and his emotional range is carefully defined; but the opportunity to hear Boccherini's instrument—its angelic top and earthier middle registers in particular (as the bottom strings are almost never heard except in the often superbly idiomatic music).
Geringas, an accomplished and perhaps wider-ranging player, doesn't project the same command of Boccherinian style, nor, more emphatically, does the Orchestra da Camera di Padova e del Veneto under Bruno Giuranna. The South-West German Chamber Orchestra under Vladislav Czarnecki accompany Berger with meticulous attention to details of articulation and dynamics.'