1700: The Century of the Portuguese
Pedro António AVONDANO (1714-1782)
Scena de Berenice for soprano and orchestra [16:11]
Pietro Giorgio AVONDANO (?-?)
Sinfonia for strings and bc in D [05:06]
Francisco António DE ALMEIDA
A quel leggiadro volto, cantata for soprano, strings and
Pietro Giorgio AVONDANO
Sinfonia for strings, [oboes] and bc in F [04:56]
anon (?Carlos SEIXAS, 1704-1742)
Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in g minor [15:00]
Pedro António AVONDANO
Ah, non sai bella Selene, aria for soprano and strings
Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano), Fernando Miguel Jaloto (harpsichord)
Divino Sospiro/Enrico Onofri
rec. 12 - 17 February 2010, Capela de Bemposta (Academia Militar),
Lisbon, Portugal. DDD
No lyrics included
DYNAMIC CDS 709 [64:12]
Portugal is a bit of a white spot on the early music map. Music
by Portuguese composers is not often performed and recorded.
Portugal experienced a kind of Golden Age in the first half
of the 17th century, when it was in a political union with Spain.
The music created in this period - for instance by De Magalhães,
Cardoso and Lobo - is still performed by ensembles which concentrate
on classical polyphony. Moreover, João IV, who was King of Portugal
from 1640 until his death in 1656, was strongly interested in
music and even wrote some. He collected a large number of compositions
by the best composers of his time and previous generations.
This resulted in a huge library of musical manuscripts which
was destroyed during the earthquake and fire of 1755. With it
a large part of Portugal's musical heritage was simply
wiped off the map.
In the first half of the 18th century Portugal experienced economic
affluence due to the discovery of gold in its colony Brazil.
King João V who ruled from 1707 to 1750 took the opportunity
to give a boost to the country's musical life. The royal
chapel was raised to a patriarchal status, a music school was
founded and musicians from Italy were hired, among them Domenico
Scarlatti. Portuguese musicians were sent to Italy to become
acquainted with the newest trends in music. No wonder Portuguese
music in the 18th century was strongly influenced by the Italian
style. This disc sheds light on three composers who played a
role in that music scene.
Pietro Antonio Avondano was from Genoa, and entered the royal
chapel as a violinist. Little is known about him; in New
Grove he is only mentioned in the article on his son Pedro
António. At the time Pietro Antonio arrived in Lisbon he was
just 19 years of age. The two sinfonias recorded here were formerly
attributed to his son, but are now thought to have been written
by the father. That seems plausible considering their baroque
style. There are striking similarities with the concerti
di ripieno by Antonio Vivaldi. They are both scored for
strings and basso continuo. In the performance of Divino Sospiro
the strings are joined by two oboes in the Sinfonia in F.
The music by his son Pedro António who was born in Lisbon is
quite different and points in the direction of the classical
style. That is certainly the case in the Scena de Berenice
which consists of two accompanied recitatives of a very dramatic
character and two arias. The orchestra plays a crucial role
in depicting the emotions of the protagonist. The aria Ah,
non sai bella Selene is an independent piece preserved
in manuscript. In the liner-notes Cristina Fernandes suggests
it could have been Avondano's contribution to the opera
La Didone abbandonata which was performed in 1765 and
comprised music by David Perez and "other excellent authors".
It is written in a largely galant idiom and the aria retains
a dacapo structure. Pedro António Avondano was not only an important
composer. He also played a crucial role in the reorganization
of musical life after the earthquake.
The third composer represented in the programme is a native
Portuguese, Francisco António de Almeida. He was one of the
Portuguese musicians who went to Rome to study. He stayed there
from 1722 to 1726; during that time at least two oratorios from
his pen were performed. After his return to Lisbon he became
organist of the royal chapel. He also started to compose operas.
His first was performed during Carnival 1733 at the royal palace;
it was the very first opera in Italian ever to be performed
in Portugal. It is assumed that De Almeida fell victim to the
earthquake. His cantata A quel leggiadro volto is in
the traditional style of the Italian chamber cantata, with two
pairs of recitative and (dacapo) aria.
The programme also includes a harpsichord concerto which has
been preserved anonymously. It is sometimes attributed to Carlos
Seixas, the most important composer of keyboard music in Portugal
in the 18th century. The reason is that it shows some similarities
with a harpsichord concerto which is preserved as a piece by
Seixas. Cristina Fernandes warns us not to jump to conclusions:
"It ought to be remembered, however, that composers then
conformed to the established style of the day, sharing, to some
extent, language and forms, and did not seek originality for
its own sake (...)". It is a rather irregular piece, in
particular as far as the solo part is concerned. The middle
movement has no solo part for the harpsichord, but rather a
short solo for the violin. The virtuosic character of the harpsichord
part indicates that the composer himself was a highly skilled
player. Therefore Seixas remains a candidate for the authorship.
Fernando Miguel Jaloto leaves nothing to be desired in his interpretation
of this demanding part. His effective use of agogical means
creates considerable tension. The drama of the Scena di
Berenice is not lost on Gemma Bertagnolli who is a seasoned
performer of - in particular - Italian music, including opera.
She gives a really theatrical performance, and the recitatives
are especially impressive. The cantata and the aria are perfectly
executed as well, with nice and tasteful ornamentation. In the
aria she uses the full range of her voice, showing a remarkably
strong low register. The orchestra gives their all in the important
instrumental part of the scene, with fine crescendi and diminuendi.
They play with passion and fire in the purely orchestral works.
This is an important and illuminating disc which raises my curiosity
about other Portuguese music. The record company deserves praise
for releasing this disc of little-known repertoire. Unfortunately
it hasn't done us the favour of printing the lyrics in
Johan van Veen