musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672 - 1749): Trio sonatas Opp. 1 & 2

[I] "Sonatas Op. 1 for 2 violins and b.c."
Labirinti Armonici
rec: April 13 - 15, 2018, Lana (Bolzano), San Pietro
Brilliant Classics - 95966 (© 2020) (60'43")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata No. 1 in D; Sonata No. 2 in B flat; Sonata No. 3 in g minor; Sonata No. 4 in b minor; Sonata No. 5 in d minor; Sonata No. 6 in F; Sonata No. 7 in E; Sonata No. 8 in a minor; Sonata No. 9 in C; Sonata No. 10 in A

Andrea Ferroni, Josef Höhn, violin; Ivo Brigadoi, cello; Marian Polin, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Sonatas Op. 2 for 2 violins and b.c."
Labirinti Armonici
rec: Jan 3 - 5, 2017, Trent, Seminario maggiore
Brilliant Classics - 95718 (© 2018) (58'01")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata No. 1 in D; Sonata No. 2 in e minor; Sonata No. 3 in F; Sonata No. 4 in A; Sonata No. 5 in E; Sonata No. 6 in a minor; Sonata No. 7 in b minor; Sonata No. 8 in C; Sonata No. 9 in B flat; Sonata No. 10 in G

Andrea Ferroni, Josef Höhn, violin; Ivo Brigadoi, cello; Andreas Benedikter, harpsichord, organ

Francesco Antonio Bonporti is one of those Italian baroque composers whose name seldom appears in concert programmes and whose music is available on disc in only a few recordings. He has come to some fame when it was discovered that a couple of Invenzioni for violin and basso continuo, which were included in the catalogue of Johann Sebastian Bach's oeuvre, were in fact from his pen. These Invenzioni - from Bonporti's Op. 10 - may have inspired Bach to call a series of harpsichord pieces Inventionen.

Thanks to his social standing, Bonporti was not forced to earn a living as a professional composer. Formally he was a dilettante, and he rather focused on a career in the church. He studied in his hometown Trent, then in Innsbruck and lastly in Rome, where he came in contact with Arcangelo Corelli, the leading composer in the city. After his return to Trent, being ordained as a priest, he obtained a minor office in the church in 1697. In the course of his life he apparently tried to make progress in his ecclesiastical career rather than in music. In New Grove, Michael Talbot and Enrico Careri describe how he, through the dedication of his various collections of music, tried to further his career, but with little success. This was partially due to the rivalry between Italian and German speakers in the church hierarchy in Trent. "Embittered by this failure, Bonporti moved to Padua in 1740, lodging in the house of a fellow priest. A final appeal to Empress Maria Theresa in 1746, in which op.12 was enlisted, proved fruitless. He died three years later and was buried in Padua."

Despite being a priest, Bonporti published only one collection of sacred music: a set of six motets for solo voice, two violins and basso continuo. This kind of accompaniment was common at the time, but Bonporti also seems to have preferred a trio structure. The acquaintance with the oeuvre of Corelli had a lasting influence on his development as a composer. Antonio Carlini, in his liner-notes to the recording of the Op. 2 trio sonatas, points out that all his compositions are founded on the trio texture, which he reduced in his solo sonatas (the above-mentioned Invenzioni) or extended in his larger-scale works (the Concerti a quattro, op. 11).

The fact that Bonporti was his own man and not in the service of an aristocrat, allowed him to be independent and not to follow conventions slavishly. That comes already to the fore in the fact that his printed collections all comprise ten pieces, instead of six or twelve, as was the custom at the time. The two collections recorded by Labirinti Armonici also bear witness to his independence.

The Sonate a tre Op. 1 were printed in 1696, and were dedicated to the archbishop of Trent. On the title-page Bonporti calls himself gentiluomo di Trento. The ten sonatas are of the da chiesa type: all of them comprise four movements, in the conventional order slow - fast - slow - fast. However, Bonporti sometimes derives from this pattern. The very first sonata opens with an adagio, but in fact only the opening and the end are slow; in between the tempo is more like an andante. The closing movement is fugal and opens with a lento episode, before turning to allegro. The Sonata No. 5 is the only one in five movements: it opens with an andante, which is followed by a vivace, a grave and an allegro e presto. The sonata closes with a very short alla breve. The Sonatas Nos. 7 and 9 both open with a fast movement, and include only one slow movement. The latter's first movement starts with a passage over a pedal point. In the last sonata two movements refer to the use of staccato, here called spiccato. There is some development within this collection: in the early sonatas the first violin is dominant, whereas in later sonatas there is more of a balance between the participating instruments, and that includes the cello, which has now and then an obbligato role. In some sonatas it even has short solos to play.

In 1698 Bonporti published his Sonate da camera a tre Op. 2. As the title indicates, these sonatas are of the da camera type, which means that they open with a preludio, which is followed by three dances. However, again Bonporti takes some liberties. The second movement is always an allemanda, except in the Sonata No. 3: here the preludio has the form of an allemanda; the second movement is a corrente, as is the second movement of the Sonata No. 6 in a minor. The third movement is usually in a slow tempo, either a sarabanda or an adagio or grave. Again, there are exceptions: the Sonatas Nos. 2 and 4 consist of four fast movements. Notable is the third movement of the Sonata No. 1: it is called staccato e adagissimo, which lends it a different character.

Arcangelo Corelli closes his trio sonatas op. 2 of 1685 with a chiacona. It became customary to end collections of trio sonatas with a piece over a basso ostinato. Bonporti does so in his Op. 2: the last piece is a ciaccona, consisting of 126 bars. The last section includes several general pauses.

As one may have gathered by now, Bonporti's oeuvre is quite interesting and deserves more attention, as Talbot and Careri also observe in New Grove: "The present-day neglect of Bonporti's music owes something to the scarcity of surviving source material, something to the undervaluing of works in the chamber idiom and something to his non-adherence to any regional school of acknowledged historical importance, such as the Venetian. It does scant justice to his stature as a composer." Some of his works have been recorded previously, but on the Italian label Dynamic, which at the time probably was not easily available outside Italy. Therefore the present discs with his Opp. 1 and 2 are most welcome. Their release by a budget label may be to the advantage of a broader interest in his oeuvre. The performers are skilled and enthusiastic advocates of Bonporti's sonatas and through their technically solid and lively performances, they do him ample justice. I hope that further recordings will follow.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

CD Reviews