Boccherini Symphonies – London Mozart Players/Bamert [Chandos]

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.3 in D, G503 (Op.12/1)
Symphony No.8 in A. G508 (Op.12/6)
Symphony No.21 in C, G515 (Op.37/1)

London Mozart Players
Matthias Bamert

Recorded 12 & 13 January 2009 in St Jude-on-the-Hill Church, London

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2010
Duration: 66 minutes



The catalogue of Luigi Boccherini’s works is very confusing. Boccherini (1743-1805) himself listed all his symphonies under Opus Numbers but Yves Gérard’s catalogue is chronologically more accurate. The numbering of the symphonies is unclear: G503 and G508 seem to be numbers 3 and 8 respectively but in the case of G515 nearly all sources describe this symphony as number 13 (although Doblinger’s publication disagrees). Chandos describes it as number 21, but there are many numbering systems so there may well be a good reason for this.

Matthias Bamert gives a good spread of works here. I have never felt that Boccherini’s music developed greatly – he has a characteristic style but it is not always easy to distinguish early works from late ones. In G503 he is concerned with melody and with careful construction – he is a skilled orchestrator but he is not concerned with dramatic contrasts of timbre. Here is a work in the key of C and with Haydn this would mean much brilliance, Boccherini orchestrates comfortably however, the horns fill the middle harmonies richly but are not used in a challenging way. Less usually for the period, the slow movement is fully scored whereas contemporary composers would often content themselves with strings and continuo. Boccherini’s orchestral notions are stated subtly – traces of pizzicato accompaniment add gentle spice to the music. The Minuet is highly original and is marked Minué amoroso. It is remarkably gentle – the melodies expand softly until the Trio where there is an extraordinary high flute solo (the use of piccolo in this performance is a convincing idea). Bamert’s unhurried approach is ideal and helps the lightweight, tuneful finale to make something of a contrast – not a dramatic movement but very cheerful with a few bars of minor key here and there for effect.

The Symphony in A (G508) differs in effect because of the brighter nature of the orchestration (it is not much later in composition but it sounds more assertive). The instrumentation does seem to result in a general richness; players seem mostly to contribute to the general sound and are only rarely given individual prominence. Perhaps this persuaded the booklet-note writer Richard Lawrence to take a slightly academic approach, concentrating on compositional technique and often choosing to pinpoint the precise nature of changes of key and the modulations used to arrive at them. He does not mention much about scoring – perhaps because there is little that requires saying.

Bamert performs this work with great sympathy – there are fine melodic lines in the extensive opening movement. Strings only are used in the slow movement, the bass line moves interestingly however and the lack of any other continuo instruments is not of concern. The Minuet – quaintly marked Minuetto con molto (the last word qualified with sic; I think moto is the intended word) has a slightly complicated melody but remains dance-like in nature and the minor-keyed trio seems almost mock-serious in nature. Something odd happens on the repeat of the Minuet after the trio – the first ten seconds are played twice – I suppose the resultant asymmetric pattern of the movement could have been rescued by repeating the remainder of the Minuet as well, but this is not how Bamert chooses to conduct such movements so it might be a misprint in the edition used or even (but much less likely) an editing error. Bamert is so conscious of shape and form in his performances that I cannot imagine that it was his choice to make this movement misshapen. The finale is unusual in that it commences with a substantial slow introduction – one-fifth the length of the movement. Allegro assai is the marking for the remainder of it and Bamert takes a very steady pace – suitable enough since this is a very slight piece.

The later G515 work is tuneful and this time there are solo elements in the slow movement with oboe and cello sharing the melodies. Again the overall sound is weighty, low horns providing euphonium-like harmonies. Boccherini does not make many strong dynamic contrasts but the second-placed quirky Minuet, with its soulful Trio, does include some surprising moments together with several examples of syncopation – this is perhaps the most attractive movement. The resonant acoustic is a useful adjunct to the full-bodied finale. I found myself enjoying the general sound very much even when, as here, the music did not grasp the attention greatly.

This release is part of Bamert’s “Contemporaries of Mozart” series for Chandos – long may it continue. Maybe this is not the best of Boccherini but his works are always welcome and the London Mozart Players is a superb exponent of 18th-century music on modern instruments. Furthermore, Bamert has an enlightening way of letting music flow convincingly without ever imposing subjective whims on it.

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