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Antonio Maria Bononcini: "Cantate in soprano, 1708"

Radu Marian, soprano
Ars Antiqua Austria
Dir: Gunar Letzbor
rec: July 2 - 5, 2004, Calci (Italy), Chiesa del Convento di Nicosia
Arcana - A 335 (60'18")

Mentre in placido sonnoa; Sul margine adoratob; Troppo, tropo rigoreb; Vorrei pupille belleb

Michael Oman, Thomas Engel, recordera; Gunar Letzbor, Ilia Korol, violinb; Peter Trefflinger, cello; Hubert Hoffmann, archlute; Norbert Zeilberger, harpsichord, organ

Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677 - 1726) is the younger and lesser-known brother of Giovanni Bononcini (1670 - 1747). He was one of a number of Italian composers who were active at the imperial court in Vienna, and introduced the newest trends in Italian music to the Austrian capital. His brother also did belong to this group of composers, as well as Ziani and Ariosti. The chamber cantata was one of the genres these composers paid attention to as listening to cantatas was part of the entertainment at the court.

It took Antonio quite some time to escape from the shadow of his brother who made special impression with his operas, one of the famous of them being Polifemo, first performed in 1702 in Berlin, where several composers at the Habsburg court were staying during the War of the Spanish Succession. Antonio devoted many of his compositions to emperor Joseph's brother Charles, who lived in Barcelona as he claimed the Spanish throne, which suggests he acted as Kapellmeister to Charles. When Joseph died in 1713, Charles succeeded him as Emperor Charles VI. What perhaps was expected, didn't happen: neither Giovanni nor Antonio received any appointment at the court. For Antonio this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it helped him to come out of the shadow of his brother. He developed into a composer of operas in his own right. In 1721 he was appointed as maestro di cappella at Modena, where he stayed until his death.

Antonio Bononcini composed 13 chamber cantatas for the Viennese court. They all follow the traditional pattern of a sequence of recitatives and da capo arias, although in Vorrei pupille belle the structure is a little different. Unlike the other cantatas it opens with an aria, which is immediately followed by a second one. The first aria is unusual anyway as the B section is a recitative. Remarkable is the fact that most arias in Bononcini's cantatas are pretty long, longer than usual in cantatas of this kind.
Another feature of Bononcini's cantatas is the scoring: all cantatas contain obbligato instrumental parts. Three of the cantatas recorded here have two violin parts, the remaining one has two parts for recorders. This was rather uncommon, as most composers at the Viennese court only seldom incororated melody instruments in their cantatas.

I am not aware of any other recordings devoted to the chamber cantatas of Antonio Maria Bononcini. From that point of view this disc is most welcome, in particular since these compositions are quite good and nice to listen to. But the interpretation is rather disappointing, I'm afraid. The main problem is the singer. Radu Marian is a male soprano, who has a remarkable range. His voice never sounds stressed as if he has to put much effort into singing the top notes. The problem is that he doesn't do much more than singing notes. There is hardly any interpretation: everything sounds more or less the same. There is very little variety in the colour of his voice, and there is hardly any text expression. Even though the subject of cantatas like these is roughly the same - (mostly unhappy) love -, there is enough variety within the text to differentiate in expression.

There is also a problem with his diction, which is unclear and imprecise. And one can only understand parts of the lyrics, but large parts are hard to catch. This is also due to the venue where the recording was made. I just don't understand why a programme with chamber cantatas is recorded in a church. It must be possible to find a venue with a more appropriate acoustics.
The positive aspect of this recording - apart from the fact that Bononcini's cantatas are given the attention they deserve - is the playing of the instrumentalists. The dynamic accents in the instrumental parts only point out once more what is wrong with the performance of the singer.

Johan van Veen ( 2005)

Relevant links:
Radu Marian
Ars Antiqua Austria

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