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Antonio Bartolomeo BRUNI (1757 - 1821): Six Duos concertans pour Violon & Alto

Alea Ensemble

rec: March 20 - 23, 2009, Cremona, Palazzo Pallavicino
MV Cremona - MV 010/031 (© 2010) (69'15")

Andrea Rognoni, violin; Stefano Marcocchi, viola

There is a good chance you have never heard of Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni. I certainly hadn't. He was one of the many Italian musicians and composers who settled in Paris in the 18th century which was one of the musical capitals of Europe. Bruni was born in Cuneo and also died there. In between he was active in Paris as a violinist and conductor, but spent most of his time composing.

Very little is known about his formative years. It has been suggested he was from the school of Gaetano Pugnani, who was a famous violin teacher and is considered the crucial link between Corelli and Viotti. But there is no firm documentary evidence of that. Bruni arrived in Paris in 1780 and made his début as a violinist in the Concert Spirituel. The next year he joined the orchestra of the Comédie-italienne. In 1782 his first collection of music was printed, a set of six duos for two violins. It was the beginning of a stream of compositions, mainly for strings. But he also composed a considerable number of theatrical works.

Being a supporter of the Revolution he became a member of the Commission Temporaire des Arts in 1794. In this capacity he was to sort out and catalogue the musical instruments and music manuscripts and prints which were confiscated during the Revolution. From 1801 to 1806 he was director of the Théâtre Italien. He then returned to Cuneo.

Bruni was a brilliant violinist and certainly also played the viola. He wrote a method for the viola which has been translated in various languages and is being reprinted to the present day. A part of his oeuvre has been lost, like some of his string quartets. He also composed a number of duos for two violins, two violas or for violin and viola. Some of them are for beginners but that is certainly not the case with the six duos recorded by the Alea Ensemble. These pieces are technically demanding, and make frequent use of double-stopping. The two instruments are treated on equal footing, and the thematic material is shared by both, partly through imitation. It is first-rate music, with attractive thematic material and appealing melodies. All duos are in two movements, mostly fast or moderately fast. The first movement of the Duo Vo is in two sections, adagio and allegro, and the Duo VIo is the only one with an adagio. Although all pieces are really beautiful, some stand out, like the 'andante semplice con variazioni' from the Duo IIo and the 'andante sostenuto' from the Duo Vo. There are also clear theatrical traits in these duos, and that could well reflect Bruni's activities in the field of opera.

The Alea Ensemble was founded in 2002 with the aim of performing classical and romantic music on period instruments. Here just two members of the ensemble are playing. Andrea Rognoni is second violino principale and Stefano Marcocchi first violist of Europa Galante. Both also play in various other ensembles. They bring lively and daring interpretations, which fully explore the often strong contrasts in these pieces. Technically their performances are also quite impressive. It is hard to imagine better champions for the string music by Bruni than Rognoni and Macocchi. This disc has made me quite curious about other parts of his oeuvre. I hope they are going to record some of it in the future. And if the quality of the duos on this disc is indicative for his whole output than string quartets should also have a look at it.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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