musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Giovanni Maria BONONCINI & Henry PURCELL: Trio Sonatas

Jaap Schröder, violin
Arcadia Players Trio

rec: November 1994, Northampton, Mass. (USA), Smith College (Sweeney Concert Hall)
Fuga Libera - FUG514 (© 2006) (75'19")

Giovanni Maria BONONCINI (1642-1678): Balletto in g minor, op. 2,11 [2]; Corrente in c minor, op. 9,9 [4]; Sonata in C, op. 1,4 [1]; Sonata in F, op. 1,5 [1]; Sonata in d minor, op. 1,6 [1]; Sonata in g minor, op. 1,8 [1]; Sonata in F, op. 3,17 [3]; Sonata in a minor, op. 9,1 [4]; Sonata in C, op. 9,3 [4]; Sonata in c minor, op. 9,5 [4]; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Sonnata I in g minor (Z 790) [5]; Sonnata II in B flat (Z 791) [5]; Sonnata VI in C (Z 795) [5]; Sonnata IX in c minor (Z 798) [5]; Sonnata XI in f minor (Z 800) [5]; Sonnata XII in D (Z 801) [5]

Dana Maiben, violin; Alice Robbins, viola da gamba, cello; Margaret Irwin-Brandon, harpsichord, organ

(Sources: [1] Primi frutti del giardino musicale, op. 1, 1666; [2] Delle sonate da camera e da ballo, op. 2, 1667; [3] Varii fiori del giardino musicale, overo Sonate da camera, op. 3, 1669; [4] Trattenimenti musicali, op. 9, 1675; [5] Sonnatas of Three Parts, 1683)

The combination of sonatas by these two composers may surprise. Although there is no formal connection, and it is not sure Purcell knew the oeuvre of Giovanni Maria Bononcini, there is no doubt he was strongly influenced by the Italan style. In his first volume of sonatas, which was published in 1693, he stated that he "has faithfully endeavor'd a just imitation of the most fam'd Italian Masters: principally to bring the Seriousness and gravity of that sort of Musick into vogue and reputation among our Country-men, whose humor, tis time now, should begin to loath the levity and balladry of our neighbors". With those neighbours he meant the French, of course. And in his sonatas he certainly paid tribute to the "seriousness and gravity" of the Italian style, in his own very specific way. Right from the start of the first item on this disc one recognizes the Italian influence: the Sonnata IX in c minor is full of bold harmonic progressions and contains many strong dissonances, right from the start.
There is another reason Purcell was interested in the Italian trio sonata: counterpoint. In his contribution to Playford's 'Introduction to the Skill of Musick' (ed. 1694) he wrote about the Italian trio sonata: " ... you will find Double and Treble Fuges also reverted and augmented in their Canzona's, with a good deal of Art mixed with good Air, which is the Perfection of a Master’. Counterpoint frequently appears in his own trio sonatas as well. In one respect they differ from their Italian counterparts: there is no distinction between 'sonate da camera' and 'sonate da chiesa': the trio sonatas contain elements of both genres.

There has been much speculation about the composers which specifically inspired Purcell. Three names are often mentioned: Legrenzi, Colista and Vitali, the second of which today is the least-known. The name of Giovanni Maria Bononcini isn't on this list, therefore one may be surprised to find him in Purcell's company on this disc. When today the name Bononcini is mentioned, usually Giovanni Maria's son Giovanni (1670-1747), who is particularly famous for his vocal works, both secular (cantatas and operas) and sacred (oratorios). His brother Maria Antonio and half-brother Giovanni Maria, were also active as composers. Their father was born in a village near Modena, where he studied with the famous violin virtuoso Marco Uccellini. In 1671 he was appointed violinist at the cathedral and at the court of a member of the Este family. Between 1666 and 1678 he published 13 collections with instrumental and (secular) vocal music. His instrumental music shows Bononcini's preference for counterpoint, and from this perspective the combination of Giovanni Maria Bononcini and Henry Purcell makes sense, even if the latter didn't know the former's music.

Just like in Purcell's music there is no lack of expression in Bononcini's music either, for instance in the Sonata in a minor, op.9,1. His music doesn't have the harmonic boldness of works composed half a century earlier: the time of harmonic experiments had gone. But he certainly knows how to use harmony to create tension, as in the third section of the Sonata in d minor, op.1,6. As one can see from the list of works on this disc, Bononcini also composed some dances, which are mere entertainment, and their inclusion on this disc - mostly in combination with a sonata in the same key - creates moments of relaxation in a predominantly pretty serious programme.

It was recorded in 1994 and to my knowledge only released in 2006 for the first time. One wonders why. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to release a recording after so much time, but in this case one can only be happy that it is available after all. The sonatas by Purcell are available in more than one recording (for instance by London Baroque on Harmonia mundi), but Giovanni Maria Bononcini is not well represented on disc. That was the case in 1994, and it still is. Hopefully this recording will contribute to an increase in the interest for his music (and that of his contemporaries). This recording also pays tribute to the art of Jaap Schröder, one of the pioneers of the historical performance practice (together with his countrymen Leonhardt, Brüggen and Bijlsma). It is nice to hear that he was still going strong at the time this recording was made. Together with a trio of American early music specialists he gives very inspired and technically assured performances of this enthralling repertoire. Both the serious and the more light-weight repertoire are getting splendid interpretations here.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

CD Reviews