Boccherini: String Quintets; Minuet in A /Europa Galante * Biondi

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Boccherini wrote about 100 string quintets, and if the three on this disc are anything to go by, they're a treasure trove of inventive music, melodically rich, full of surprising twists and turns, and with moments of great depth (as in the austerely beautiful Larghetto that opens the D minor Quintet). Written during Boccherini's stint as court composer in Madrid, these are "can't-miss" pieces, as is the encore track, the delicious Minuet from the Quintet Opus 11 No. 5, beloved by film fans for its use as a plot device in Alec Guinness's 1955 British comedy, The Ladykillers. The sympathetic playing of these musicians, drawn from the outstanding period performance band Europa Galante, makes this a major addition to the catalogue. The group's leader and first violinist on this disc is Fabio Bondi, whose solo recordings establish him as perhaps the finest of period practitioners. He shines in his solo turns, his colleagues play with spirited abandon, and the result is as delightful an hour of listening as you're likely to find on disc. --Dan Davis

Customer Reviews:

  • Thoroughly enjoyable again and again
    This disc was the first disc that I purchased of solely Boccherini. I won't go on about it as others have done such a great job. I loved it so much, that in the ensuing years I have searched out other recordings of Boccherini's compositions. I really enjoy the NAXOS released cello concertos too. I highly recommend this disc as I come back to listen to it repeatedly....more info
  • A lesser-known delight
    "Boccherini who?" you ask. While not anywhere near as widely known as peer composers like Haydn or Mozart, the Italian Boccherini wrote a plethera of chamber music during his years serving under the Spanish court palace - an appointment not unlike Haydn's at Esterhaza - with some of it approaching these other masters. Notably, a lot of it focused on the cello - to the delight of cellists throught the centuries. You can hear the likeness of Haydn's tricks and Mozart's wit in these works, composed around 1778. Yet, Boccherini's twin-cello quintets (and especially in the guitar quintets on other discs) are quite different and have a most captivating "Spanish flavor" to them that bursts forth with a spring-like freshness and life.

    Readers of "The Rough Guide to Clasical Music" will have seen this CD featured. And deservingly so as it is a really wonderful, full-of-life recording of some unique music of the classical era. And who more to bring them to life than Fabio Biondi and The Europa Galante. It is pretty much a given that Fabio Biondi will bring a dynamic and vibrant quality to whatever music he is playing and these quartets are no exception to that rule. It is not quiet chamber music to play in the background, but chamber music that jumps out of the speakers and captivates your senses. This is due in part to the wider dynamic range (pp to ff) that the Galante uses to create more drama, especially in the lively outer movements. For those shopping for the "Minuet in A," look no further - this one is a gem, full of charm and whimsy. I have many recordings by Biondi and placed this among my absoulte favorites. Thankfully too these quartets are recorded in very good sound on Veritas with a presence that is not too upfront or overly "spacious" - allowing clear definition of textures especially in the quiet passages which Biondi plays equistely. The Europa Galante bring just the right flair and "sunny Spanish flavor" to Boccherini's cello-rich music that make this CD an enthusiastic recommendation. It garnished a Gramophone "Gem" award as well. It won my own "Little Gem" award as well! Pure delight. Compositions - 5 stars; Performance - 5 stars; Sound - 5 stars....more info
  • Superb playing, but what about period instruments?
    This CD is absolutely first-rate, it is one of the best items in Boccherini's chamber discography. When you listen to Europa Galante play Boccerini, you realise that a comparison of their leader, maestro Biondi, with mature Yehudi Menuhin, who both performed as a soloist and leaded a chamber ensemble is not too bold. I would even dare to compare Biondi with a supreme violinist of 1930-40s, Adolf Busch, who both leaded Busch Chamber Players and was the primarius of the Busch String Quartet, one of the best in his days. It is a pity that Biondi/Europa Galante have only a couple of recordings, where they play classical string quartets and quintets.
    I have heard two of the three quintets on this CD before - Op. 25. No. 1 in D- minor and Op. 25 No. 3 in C. They can be found on SBT 1043-1045 with Quintetto Boccherini - a good though not very famous group. I still advise buying those three CDs - they contain a lot of Boccherini's music not available anywhere else. But Biondi/Europa Galante surpass Quintetto Boccherini, and not because of the period instruments or a 'historically-informed' approach - they simply play better and more captivating.
    The third quintet on this CD - Op. 25. No. 6 in A minor (actually it is the first in Biondi' selection) is the most demanding one musically, but the other two are fine, too. In all the three quintets the initial two movements are more dramatic and intense, while the final movement(s) are generally more relaxed and straightforward. As an encore, Biondi & Co. play a once popular Menuetto E-dur from Boccherini' Quintet Op. 11 No. 6. The author of the liner notes and some other reviewers fail to explain, why such an ordinary piece has grown so popular in the XIX-XX centuries, while the main heritage of Boccherini was forgotten. Don't get kidded! The menuet itself is charming: the truth is simply that Boccherini has written many other fine menuets.
    I am not disposed to find any flies in the oinment, since they are not there. I am however a bit puzzled by stock phrases like "thrillingly articulated period instruments" etc. from editorial reviews. What kind of period instruments are meant? In this recording, as listed in the booklet, Fabio Biondi plays an Antonio Gragnani violin (1795), three other players use modern replicas of Stradivari, only the violist Ernesto Braucher plays a Nicola Amati copy from the XVII century(1650). On Boccherini's portrait from c.1765/68 the composer is playing a modern-looking cello, so the meaning of the expression 'period instruments', when it refers to a classical string quintet and to not to a band containing recorders, chalumeuax, viola'd'amours etc. is really elusive. I would appreciate a comment from either Fabio Biondi or the producers. Gut strings? Almost sure. Non-standard pitch? Maybe, but this is NOT indicated. Lack of vibrato and dynamic accents? Nope, this is NOT true to fact. I conclude that catchphrases 'period instruments', 'authentic performance' etc frequently convey little if any meaning: they are used just as catchwords 'ecological' or 'natural' - in order to convince a buyer that he gets a healthy and a doctor-recommended medicine.
    Happily you are not obliged to think what exactly you consume when listening to this wonderful CD. ...more info
  • String Quintets, Boccherini/ Biondi/ Europa Galante
    The Boccherini quintets are a rare example of the string quintet format that allowed the composer to play his cello with the resident string quartet. In this recording Biondi brings his spirit to the music and brings it to life with the skill and sentitivity to line and phrasing that the players of Europa Galante bring. The recording is clean well balanced. One does not get the feeling of being inside the instruments favored so much by so many contemprary producers yet it still retains a feeling of intimacy really essential to chamber music. This is a fine recording of works rarely found together with such quality. In some ways the final minuet in A is such a cliche that it spoils the feeling from the quintets....more info
  • Boccherini+Biondi=Amazing!
    Boccherini is hardly known for being one of the greater composers. That is mostly because of the of the numerous boring recordings and performances of his music. Remember why Vivaldi was once a neglected composer? Ignorance and stupidity are two words that comes to my head. Anyway...
    The music of Boccherini is breathing fresh air again thanks to these brilliant musicians led by Fabio Biondi. These interpretations are amazing! The sound of the gut strings is so superb and the amazing overall sound of this ensemble could hardly have been achieved with high tension steel strings. This music can be really boring but these are some tasteful, passionate and very fascinating performances. They play extremely soft and very, very loud within a couple of bars. Extreme dynamics that you rarely experience with modern intruments ensembles. Biondi even plays some beautiful ornamentations.
    Once again, to all you "earth-flaters":
    Listen and marvel because this is one of the recordings that fully takes advantage of the superior qualities of the period instruments. Of course, it's always about the musicians, but playing football with a volleyball isn't always ideal....more info
  • A Giant Among Composers For Strings
    Boccherini's music is wonderful. His arrangements are beautiful, exciting, playful, and fun. I know that he is considered by many to be inferior to Haydn regarding his compositions with strings. I disagree with this thinking. Surely, Haydn's body of work is impressive and is genious. I feel the same way about Luigi Boccherini. This Cd is excellent. The playing is superb and the recording is top drawer. I have listened to this cd multiple times - it is always a treat. If you enjoy listening to string arrangements, here's a wonderful addition to your music collection!...more info
  • ...and there was much rejoicing
    There is a shameful dearth of recordings of Boccherini's string quintets in today's marketplace. Why such a masterful group of works goes untouched is a mystery to me, but it was with great pleasure that I snapped up this marvelous CD by Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante cohorts. This disc is everything you would hope for in a chamber music recording: excellent recorded sound; sharp, witty playing; and intriguing compositions. I have yet to be bored by any of Boccherini's works, and am surprised that these hundred-some string quintets (with two cellos) are not treated with the same level of respect as, say, Scarlatti's sonatas. The inclusion of the famous minuet from Op. 11 no. 5 is a little gratuitous, but the players take at it with such verve that I can hardly complain. Seek out the Smithsonian Chamber Players' out-of-print recording of Op. 11 nos. 4, 5 and 6 on DHM. The Op. 11 quintets feature more virtuosic writing for the cello than these Op. 25 quintets, which are a nice vehicle for Biondi's considerable talents (though the group as a whole performs very well together). Really fascinating music. If you're a lover of the Classical era, of Boccherini, or of chamber music in general, I highly recommend this CD. I hope there's more to come....more info
  • If you enjoy Haydn and Mozart.... stands to reason that you might like Luigi Boccherini as well. He was an eminently successful composer of the same era (1743-1805), a famous cello virtuoso and a rival in fame to Haydn amongst his contemporaries. But he's also had a reputation as a lightweight - Haydn's Wife, he was mockingly called - and he's lacked the modern symphonic advocacy that Mozart has enjoyed. Besides, his music is outside my own performing repertoire, which concentrates on the 16th & 17th centuries. So I've ignored him. I've skipped concerts featuring his works. 'There's only so much listening time in a life,' I've thought...

    ...but sometimes a single brilliant performance can compel a guy to open his ears. That's what has happened to me with old Luigi. A few weeks ago I came upon this CD of Boccherini's String Quintets, performed by an ensemble I admire greatly, Europa Galante, led by my favorite Italian Baroque violinist, Fabio Biondi. I was also intrigued by the possibilities of the string quintet with two cellos, which reminded me of the rich bass timbres of the viola da gamba quintets of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. So I ordered it... and the rest is a tale of extravagance, with me starring as the spendthrift who bought eleven CDs of Boccherini in one order.

    The vigorous delicacy and sonorous transparency (how do you like those oxymorons?) of Europa Galante suits Boccherini's musical concepts perfectly. Harmonies and rhythmic patterns need to shift in these quintets with Italianate grace rather than Austrian earnestness.
    Boccherini spent most of his composing years in Spain, in the same courtly ambiance in which Goya painted his early portraits. There are atmospheric movements in many of his pieces - fandangos and minuets with castanets - that might easily sound like background music for a Spanish travelogue except that Boccherini handles them with concentration and complexity. There are also movements of "Sturm und Drang" as stormy and drangy as any of Haydn's best; clearly Boccherini was aware of and influenced by the Mannheim school. Then there are moments of exuberance that carry me back to Vivaldi, to the manly modes of the high Baroque before the perfumed Rococo became the fashion.

    Boccherini was himself a cellist, and he stretched the capacities of his favored instrument to the maximum, sending the cello into its highest register above the viola for extended passages. I'm sure I hear a murmur of cellists shouting Hey! How come it took you so long! I'll wager every cellist in the world keeps a bust of Boccherini on her/his mantelpiece. Beyond these wonderfully rich quintets, there's a virtuoso's repertoire of cello sonatas, cello concertos, and for good measure a set of quintets with double bass. Europa Galante has also recorded a disk of Boccherini's string quintets with guitar as the fifth voice. Glorious!

    The comparison with Mozart is inevitable. Boccherini wrote nothing, as far as I know, to match Mozart's greatest operas, symphonies, or his requiem, in emotional intensity. But Boccherini's chamber music and cello concerti can hold their own next to Mozart's galant best in similar genres, in terms of musical detail and stylishness. Join the Boccherini Club! No penalty for late comers like me!...more info


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