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João Domingos BOMTEMPO (1771-1842)
Symphony No.1 Op.11
Symphony No.2
Algarve Orchestra/Álvaro Cassuto
Recorded at the University of the Algarve, Faro, undated
NAXOS 8.557163 [66.44]

It’s good to see that Naxos has embraced Bomtempo, previously pretty much the hegemony of Strauss. The latter company has released a slew of his music over the last few years, including volumes of the piano sonatas and a splendid Kyrie and Gloria. They’ve also released their own performances of the symphonies performed here, which I’ve not heard [STRAUSS SP 4291]

He was an assimilator rather than an inventor and in the case of the First Symphony sails close to Haydn’s prevailing aesthetic. The first movement is classical almost to a fault but has knowledgeable use made of wind writing and well judged moments of lyrical relaxation. Bomtempo places the Minuet and trio before the slow movement; it’s a mite generic, with no great identifying touches but is deftly constructed. The conductor Álvaro Cassuto has added two trumpets to the timpani part in the Andante sostenuto on the grounds that there is no trumpet part at all and that those works that influenced Bomtempo never used timpani without trumpets. This I suspect distinguishes this recording from that on Strauss, with the Hanover Philharmonic under César Viana.

The Second Symphony – neither seems to be datable – is a much bigger work with a Beethovenian-sized opening movement and an air generally of a more considered sensibility. Whilst it lacks the earlier symphony’s geniality and freshness it has qualities of its own. The fluent Allegro moderato cleaves to the hinterland of Romanticism – nice, avian flutes and a bold compositional palette on broadly predictable lines and rather overstretched for its (here sixteen minute) length. The Allegretto has pertly delightful immediacy – and strikes a far keener and more personalised note; entrancing counter themes and a truly operatic, vocalised impress; was this the great aria he never wrote? The finale is vigorous, lithe, in sonata form but with a witty pizzicato band march theme. The humour is puckish, the wind choirs are prominent, and the strings answer with felicitous drama. The attacca playing here is particularly good.

The sound quality, recorded in the University of the Algarve, is rather recessed and muffled and has a veiled quality that tends to distance listening. The orchestra doesn’t sound too big and sometimes lacks heft in some of Bomtempo’s more vigorous outbursts (there are a few). Otherwise this has been another pleasant re-acquaintance with Portugal’s leading classicist composer.

Jonathan Woolf

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