Cuarteto Casals's Stylish Take on Boccherini

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Luigi Boccherini, who died in 1805, never intended his famous Minuet from the String Quintet in E Major to become a stand-alone hit, but it will forever be associated with movies wherever an elegant or snooty effect is desired. Along with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Boccherini’s piece is the stuff of garden parties with tea and crumpets, chauffeured Rolls-Royces and Grey Poupon hand-offs.

All cliché of course. A new recording of Boccherini’s chamber music by Cuarteto Casals and cellist Eckart Runge seeks to rescue the composer’s reputation as being more than a master of frilly dance pieces, with fresh and stylish performances that make the music feel newly minted.

Cuarteto Casals was founded in 1997 in Madrid, the Spanish capital in which the Italian-born Boccherini made his adopted home and found his fortune. It was there, in 1780, where he wrote his C Major String Quintet, subtitled Night Music in the Streets of Madrid. The piece is purely descriptive, programmatic music; as the composer notes, its movements depict bells ringing from parish churches, drum-rolls from barracks, street buskers and "blind beggers" (requiring the cellists to place their instruments on their knees like a guitar and strum the strings with their fingernails). Boccherini added a disclaimer that “everything here that does not comply with the rules of composition should be pardoned for its attempt at an accurate representation of reality.”

The quartet plays up those idiosyncrasies, just as it delivers stylish performances of a fine String Quartet in G minor, Op 32 No 5 and a Guitar Quintet in D. The latter includes piquant glissandos on the strings, and even drum-roll effects, closing with a castanet-accompanied Fandango. As for the famous Minuet, the Cuarteto Casals delivers a downright ethereal performance that will surprise anyone who thought they'd knew this piece inside and out.

'Boccherini: La musical notturna delle strade di Madrid'
Cuarteto Casals with Eckart Runge, cello; Carles Trepat, guitar
Harmonia Mundi
Available at Arkivmusic.com