Sheridan Stokes

Boccherini: Six Sonatas for Flute & Harpsichord, Op. 5

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Reissued from an Orion LP of the early '70s, this recording is imperfect in numerous ways. The sound is awful, despite claims of audiophile quality on the back of the booklet. The performers are often uncertain as to tempo, and the harpsichord played by Bess Karp is a clunky, precariously tuned thing with all the grace of an American faux sports car. Karp indulges in some improvised ornamentation that's highly debatable for music of this period. Yet the performers don't lack enthusiasm. (Flutist Sheridon Strokes, curiously enough, was the same one heard on the flute theme of the old Mission: Impossible television series.) And the biggest point working in this disc's favor is the repertoire, which other performers haven't exactly rushed to cover. They also exist in a version for violin, but that also has rarely been recorded. These six sonatas for flute and harpsichord are thought to have been composed in Paris in the 1760s, before Boccherini moved to Spain. They are extremely unusual in that, in a time when the solo instrumental sonata relegated the keyboardist to an essentially accompanimental role (or, conversely, keyboard sonatas might have a half-baked optional accompaniment for another instrument), they were dedicated to a harpsichordist and treat each instrumentalist to passages of equal complexity. (Really they are sonatas for harpsichord with flute, but the flute has a much more important role than in most other pieces of this type.) Best of all is that Boccherini launches ambitious formal designs to complement his considerable textural innovation -- and pulls them off. These are bright, active sonatas that transcend the galant cheerfulness of their time and look forward to the dialogue modes of the later instrumental sonata. Despite the problems with this disc, it is recommended to flute recitalists looking for unusual repertoire and to any aficionado of Classical-era chamber music.

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