Luigi Boccherini, who was himself an outstanding cellist, may not have been the first composer to add a second cello to the string quartet, but he was surely the most prolific producer of cello quinlets, with 125 to his credit. (Schubert, curiously, did not seem to know these works, but found the precedent for his tone towering cello quintet in the works for such an ensemble by his near-contemporary George Onslow.)
Back in the 1950s Angel issued six LPs of Boccherini cello quintets, all played by the Quintetto Boccherini, since the deletion of those mono discs very few of these works have been available on records (one or two listed in Schwann, another handful on MHS), so it is in especially nice surprise to find a new series of them coming from HNH Records.
The performing ensemble on HNH is also called the Quintetto Boccherini, but the only element of continuity in the personnel in Luigi Sagrati, the violist, who "replaced Renzo Sabatini about midpoint in the Angel series and who turns up again the new group, in which his associates are violinists Montserrat Cervera and Claudio Buccarella and cellists Marco Scano and Pietro Stella. These musicians, whose names are fairly well known from various Ensayo and Erato recordings issued here by MHS, seem even more attuned to the Boccherini spirit than their predecessors, and they have chosen a splendid program to inaugurate their series. The first disc (HNH 40480 offers the Quintet No. 15 in F major (G. 279), the D major Quintet made up of the Pastorate from G.270 and the Minuet and Fandango which constitute G. 341, and the especially intriguing and original No. 60 in C major, called La Musicss notturna delle strade di Madrid (G. 324).
Boccherini used the Fandango from G. 341 and the final movement of G. 324 in at least two other settings each (one with guitar, one with piano), the music is delightful in all its various guises, but has not been presented on records with so happy a combination of verve, depth and all-round polish as here - and even more certainly has not been so well served by the recording engineers. A marvelous introduction this repertory.
Another nice chamber music surprise from HNH is a Dohnanyi record, compling the delicious Serenade in C for string trio, Op. 10, and the Piano Quintet, Op. 1, both performed by members of the New London Quintet (the fifth member of which is not a cellist, of course, but a pianist). None of the individual names rang a bell with me, and, truth to tell, this disc (HNH 4072) is more welcome for the repertory itself than for anything exceptional in the way of performance. Neither of the two works, as far as I recall, has been recorded in stereo before, and the quinlet hasn't been around at all for some time. Both performances are quite satisfactory as far as they go, but this one of the serenade is not in the same league with the classic old Heifetz-Primrose-Feuermann on RCA LVT-1017 or the regrettably deleted Westminister mono by Jean Pougnet, Frederick Riddle and Anthony Pini. The sound, though, is very good on the new HNH disc, which, like the Boccherini reviewed above, comes with Peter Eliot Stone's characteristically excellent annotations.
Outside the realm of chamber music, Dohnanyi's best-known work, his "Variations on a Nursery Tune," is played on a new Quintessence release by painist Earl Wild with the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Christopla vou Dohnanyi. The disc (PMC-7059 also includes the same composer's solo Capriccio in F minor, Op. 23, and two works by Liszt, the Hungarica Fantasia (with the Royal Philharmonic under Russell Stanger) and the piano version of the Mephisto Waltz . Wild is at the top of his form throughout this program, the accompaniments are first-rate, and so in the mid-'60s sound. The only disappointment is the documentation.
While it would be unrealistic to demand the scholarly sort of job Peter Stone did for HNH's Boccherini, we can expect better than this. Christoph von Dohnanyi, the composer's grandson, is identified here as his son. The biographical remarks on Liszt are trite and inept. The lassa and friska are cited in the description of the Hungarian Fantasia - but without the explanation that these are the two parts of the classic csardas . The "program" for the Mephisto Waltz is given as if it were Liszt's own concoction, with no mention of Lenau's name anywhere, and no mention of the piece's subtitle. In the liner heading and on the disc label this piece is identified as "Op. 110. No. 2." Liszt, however, did not use opus numbers, the number is that appended by Humphrey Searle, in his exhaustive catalogue of Liszt's works, to the orchestral version of the piece, the piano version played here by Wild being listed therein as No. 514.
My copy of the disc happens to be severely warped, too, but it does play, and, for listening if not reading, it is really quite a buy.