April 2006

Boccherini - Quintet in D for Guitar and Strings (with castanets); Quintet in C, "La Ritirata di Madrid"; Symphony in D minor, Op. 37/3; Symphony in A major, Op. 35/3
Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall conductor
Alia Vox AV 9845
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Jordi Savall first made his name as a virtuoso of the viola da gamba -- and then came his powerful yet "anti-monumentalist" Eroica, which more than a few of us made our choice among "period-instrument" versions of that watershed manifesto of the symphony as redefined by Beethoven. Savall’s new offering, again as conductor of "Le Concert des Nations" on his own Alia Vox label, of four works by Luigi Boccherini -- a mix of symphony and chamber music -- is no less bracing and no less revelatory.

Here, two of the best-known of Boccherini’s quintets bracket two of his most attractive symphonies. The D major Quintet for guitar and strings is so bewitchingly embellished by Josť de Udeta’s castanets in its famous Fandango finale that no one could deny him his star billing for his brief but indispensable appearance. It’s fun, it’s brilliant, it’s invigorating, it’s heady. The similarly renowned Cello Quintet in D, called La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid, is actually a tone poem in the realm of chamber music, in seven imaginative tableaux. The performance itself is no less imaginative, and again rich with the sense of fresh discovery.

The two symphonies, less overtly dramatic, are nonetheless colorful, inspiriting and filled with provocative surprises of their own. None of these works has had such enlivening advocacy before, and even the annotated booklet is exceptional. More to the point, so is the sound: definitely demo quality on CD, and very likely more impressive still in the SACD edition on the way.

In a word: irresistible.