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Giovanni & Antonio Maria BONONCINI: "Sono amante - Cantatas and Chamber Music"

Ulrike Hofbauer, sopranoa; Ensemble La Ninfea

rec: March 30 - April 1, 2011, Bremen, Studio Radio Bremen
Thorofon - CTH 2584 (© 2011) (75'51")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Antonio Maria BONONCINI (1677-1726): Che faremo ò cor mio, cantata for soprano, recorder and bca; Mentre in placido sonno, cantata for soprano, 2 recorders and bca; Tutta fiamme e tutta ardore, cantata for soprano, 2 recorders and bca; Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747): Chi d'amor, op. 8,1, anon arr as Sonata for 2 instr and bc; Divertimento da camera II, versions for recorder and bc & for harpsichord [1]; Sono amante, cantata for soprano, viola da gamba and bca; Yes, yes, 'tis all I want (aria from English version of Il trionfo di Camilla), arr for luteb

Source: [1] Giovanni Bononcini, Divertimenti da camera, 1722

Barbara Heindlmeier, recorder; Christian Heim, recorder, viola da gamba; Marthe Perl, viola da gamba; Simon Linné, theorbo, archlute, guitar (solo b); Alina Rotaru, harpsichord

It was a nice idea to make a recording with compositions by the two brothers Bononcini, and particularly to devote so much of it to the younger brother Antonio Maria. Music by the Bononcini's isn't that frequently performed and recorded anyway, and the younger is mostly in the shadows of the elder.

They were the sons of Giovanni Maria (1642-1678), who lived and worked in Modena all his life. He was an important theorist and the first to write sonatas in various contrasting movements. Both sons were educated as cellists and were pupils of Giovanni Paolo Colonna in Bologna. From 1690 to 1693 they played in the orchestra of Cardinal Pamphili who was then papal legate in Bologna. Antonio Maria was one of the first composers to write cello sonatas, preceded only by Domenico Gabrielli. Between 1694 and 1697 the Bononcini's played as cellists in Rome. In that year Giovanni went to Vienna where he entered the service of emperor Leopold I, who in 1698 was succeeded by Joseph I. He developed into the emperor's favourite composer, and wrote a number of operas.

In 1700 he was joined by his brother. When the War of the Spanish succession broke out the brothers travelled to Berlin where they were active at the court of Sophie Charlotte. It was largely thanks to Giovanni's position at the Viennese court that Antonio Maria was also given a position. He composed a considerable number of cantatas and serenatas. He was greatly appreciated and in 1710 he was appointed 'composer to the emperor', with retrospective effect from 1707. When Joseph died in 1711 he was succeeded by his brother as Charles VI. He did not retain the Bononcinis, and soon it was Antonio Caldara who became the favourite composer at the imperial court.

Antonio Maria went to Italy and settled in Modena. He continued to write operas which didn't meet very much approval. He ended his life as maestro di cappella at the court in Modena. Despite being appreciated in Vienna he was less famous than his elder brother. It is interesting to note that someone like Francesco Geminiani rated him higher than Giovanni because he was "much beyond his brother in point of depth and knowledge". The present disc bears witness to the great qualities of Antonio Maria. The three cantatas on this disc are fine specimens of one of the most popular genres of the time. It was especially Alessandro Scarlatti who had laid down the scoring and structure of the chamber cantata. It was basically written for solo voice - usually soprano - and basso continuo, with two pairs of recitative and aria. It is striking how often Antonio Maria deviates from that. In many cantatas he adds one or two obbligato instruments, either violins or recorders. He also wrote many cantatas for other voice types, like alto and bass. And then he sometimes breaks away from the Scarlattian structure. Tutta fiamme e tutta ardore omits the opening recitative, and Che faremo ò cor mio begins with an instrumental introduzione in two sections, followed by a minuet. Only then follow the usual two pairs of recitative and aria.

The depth Gemiani referred to comes to the fore in Antonio Maria's treatment of counterpoint and the way he expresses the text in his music. The three cantatas on this disc deliver striking examples of that. It is emphisized by Ulrike Hofbauer who brings highly expressive interpretations of these pieces. Her recitatives are models of speechlike singing, with the necessary freedom of rhythm, and in the arias she closely follows the text in her use of dynamics and the colouring of her voice. I also should mention her good ornamentation. As far as I know only one disc has been previously devoted to cantatas by Antonio Maria Bononcini, with the male soprano Radu Marian. Mentre in placido sonno appears on both discs, but Ms Hofbauer's performance is in any respect superior. The playing of the members of the Ensemble La Ninfea is a delight. The recorder parts are beautifully executed, and the basso continuo players deliver excellent support.

Simon Linné brings his own transcription of an aria from the English version of Giovanni's famous opera Il trionfo di Camilla. Such arrangements were common practice, and Linné plays the aria in a quite 'vocal' way. Geminiani may have stated that Antonio Maria had more depth, Giovanni's cantata Sono amante is a beautiful piece, and certainly not without depth in its expression. The last aria contains an obbligato part for the viola da gamba, which emphasizes its sorrowful content. Here Giovanni also breaks away from the common structure as the first recitative is preceded by a short aria.

The other two works from Giovanni's pen are instrumental. The Sonata in a minor is a transcription of Chi d'amor, one of the Duetti da camera op. 8, which were published in Bologna in 1691. It has been preserved in a French manuscript, with 10 transcriptions of duets in total, which is now in the Bibliothèque National de France. It reflects the growing interest in Italian music in France around 1700. The scoring is not indicated, but according to the liner-notes "the clefs and ranges of the individual parts suggest various combinations of viols". It is played here on two descant viols which were very popular in France. The Divertimento da camera II is from a set of eight for violin or recorder and basso continuo, which was printed in London in 1722. That same year an arrangement for harpsichord was published. The performers decided to combine the two with the harpsichord switching between a concertante and a supporting role. The performances of the instrumentalists in these pieces is again of the highest order, and the qualities of Bononcini's instrumental compositions is well exposed.

All in all, this is one of the best discs I have heard recently. The performances of this repertoire are pretty much ideal. Moreover, the choice of repertoire deserves much praise. The booklet includes informative liner-notes as well as all lyrics with translations in English and German. The only regret is that the translations are printed separately which is not very user-friendly. And I have no idea why editors add Battista to Giovanni Bononcini's Christian name as in the booklet of this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ulrike Hofbauer
Ensemble La Ninfea

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