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Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672 - 1749): Trio sonatas Opp. 4 & 6

[I] "Sonatas Op. 4 for 2 Violins and B.C."
Labirinti Armonici
rec: July 8 - 10, 2021, Trent (TN), Seminario Maggiore Arcivescovile
Brilliant Classics - 96623 (© 2022) (64'16")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in g minor, op. 4,1; Sonata in b minor, op. 4,2; Sonata in a minor, op. 4,3; Sonata in B flat, op. 4,4; Sonata in E, op. 4,5; Sonata in A, op. 4,6; Sonata in D, op. 4,7; Sonata in e minor, op. 4,8; Sonata in F, op. 4,9; Sonata in C, op. 4,10

[II] "Sonatas Op. 6 for 2 Violins and B.C."
Labirinti Armonici
rec: July 8 - 10, 2022, Trent (TN), Seminario Maggiore Arcivescovile
Brilliant Classics - 96876 (© 2023) (55'07")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in b minor, op. 6,1; Sonata in D, op. 6,2; Sonata in f sharp minor, op. 6,3; Sonata in A, op. 6,4; Sonata in E, op. 6,5; Sonata in B flat, op. 6,6; Sonata in g minor, op. 6,7; Sonata in C, op. 6,8; Sonata in e minor, op. 6,9; Sonata in F, op. 6,10

Sources: Sonate da camera a tre, op. 4, 1703; Sonate da camera a tre, op. 6, 1705

Andrea Ferroni, Josef Höhn, violin; Ivo Brigadoi, cello; Pietro Prosser, archlute [II]; Alessandro Baldessarini, theorbo [I]; Marija Jovanovic, harpsichord

When in 1911 the German scholar Werner Wolfheim discovered that four Invenzioni for violin and basso continuo, which were published as part of the Bach Ausgabe, were in fact from the pen of Francesco Antonio Bonporti, the composer was virtually unknown. Seven years later Wolfheim's French colleague Charles Bouvet was able to identify these four pieces as being taken from Bonporti's Op. 10. Since then he has become better-known, but still plays a marginal role in modern performance practice. One won't often see his name appearing on the programmes of public concerts or in anthologies on CD. In the early years of this century the Italian label Dynamic released several discs with his music, but at the time the label's dissemination was limited, and they may well have escaped the attention of many music lovers. That makes the recordings by the ensemble Labirinti Armonici at the Brilliant Classics label all the more important.

Thanks to his social standing, Bonporti was not forced to earn a living as a professional composer. He called himself a dilettante di musica, 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 became a pupil of Ottavio Pitone. He must have become acquainted with Arcangelo Corelli, but there is no evidence that he was his pupil. 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. Even so, he dedicated his printed editions of music to various people in high positions; the Invenzioni da camera Op. 10 even to Emperor Charles VI. It seems not to have had any effect. In 1740 he moved to Padua, probably attracted by the presence there of Giuseppe Tartini. There he died in 1749.

Bonporti's oeuvre is rather small. It comprises four sets of trio sonatas (Opp. 1, 2, 4 and 6), three sets of pieces for violin and basso continuo (Opp. 7, 10 and 12) and the Concerti a quattro Op. 11. Three collections have been lost: Arie, baletti e correnti Op. 5 and two sets of menuets for violin and basso continuo Opp. 8 and 9. A few works have been preserved in manuscript. Bonporti composed almost no vocal music; the only pieces from his pen in this genre are the six motets for voice, violin and basso continuo Op. 3.

The trio sonata was one of the main genres of instrumental music from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century. Trio sonatas were intended for amateurs, and therefore technically not too demanding. A technique like double stopping was mostly avoided. A set of trio sonatas was the ideal way for a composer to present himself to the musical community at large, showing his skills in the department of counterpoint. No wonder that many collections of trio sonatas bear the opus number 1.

Bonporti seems to have been a self-willed character if we have to go by his music. It is notable, for a start, that all his published editions, with the exception of the Op. 3 motets, consist of ten pieces. That was highly unusual: nearly each set of sonatas or concertos comprised six or twelve items. Then, composers often mixed sonatas of the da camera and the da chiesa type; Corelli published two sets of each type. Bonporti's only sonate da chiesa are the Op. 1; the other three sets consist of sonate da camera. However, in neither case he slavishly follows the model of Corelli.

The two discs reviewed here concern the sonatas Op. 4 and Op. 6. The sonatas of former set come in four movements; the only exception is the Sonata No. 5 in E, which has three. All the sonatas open with a preludio, except No. 4, whose first movement is an allemanda, which elsewhere is always the second movement. Other second movements are correntes. The Sonata No. 4 is exceptional also in that the second movement is not a dance, but an andante. Moreover, whereas the first movements of every sonata is in a slow or modest tempo, the opening allemanda of this sonata is marked presto vivace.

The Op. 6 sonatas are all in three movements, usually in the order slow/modest - fast - fast. However, there we also have an exception: the preludio of the Sonata No. 10 is marked vivace. And whereas nearly each sonata ends with a fast movement, the Sonata No. 6 closes with a sarabanda with the tempo indication largo. It includes quite some chromaticism, and so does the preludio of the Sonata No. 7. Elsewhere in these sets there are also moments where Bonporti's harmonic language is notable. It should also be mentioned that the use of the key of f sharp minor Sonata No.3 from Op. 6 was rather rare at the time: Corelli used it once in his Op. 2, Vivaldi never used it in his instrumental music.

In New Grove Michael Talbot and Enrico Careri state: "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." Having heard a substantial part of his output, I can only agree. The two discs reviewed here are worthy sequels to the recording of the Opp. 1 and 2 by the same ensemble. Labirinti Armonici have done us a great favour by bringing these four sets of trio sonatas to the attention of the music world in such fine and engaging performances. Of these two discs I enjoyed in particular the Op. 6: musically these sonatas are the most interesting, and there the performers also seem to be most inspired. The dynamic contrasts are a bit larger than in the Op. 4.

These two discs can be unequivocally recommended. I hope that the ensemble continues its exploration of Bonporti oeuvre and makes us happy with the recording of the solo sonatas.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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