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Antonio Maria BONONCINI (1677 - 1726)
Messa and Stabat mater
Messa a cinque concertata in g minor [47:51]
Stabat mater a quatro in c minor [32:04]
Silvia Frigato, Raffaela Milanesi (soprano), Andrea Arrivabene (alto), Elena Biscuola, Sara Mingardo (contralto), Valerio Contaldo, Raffaele Giordani (tenor), Salvo Vitale (bass)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
rec. live, January 2012, Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria. DDD
Lyrics and translations included
NAÏVE OP 30537 [79:58]

Antonio Maria Bononcini was the younger brother of the more famous Giovanni. Both 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, then the papal legate in Bologna. After that Antonio Maria worked in Rome, and then joined his brother in Vienna in 1700. From 1705 to 1711 he acted as Kapellmeister to Charles III, brother of emperor Joseph I, living in Spain. He also composed music for the court in Vienna, and in 1710 he was named '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.
The music of the Bononcinis belongs to that part of the baroque repertoire which is hardly explored as yet. If it is given any attention it is mostly Giovanni's output which is performed. This disc brings two large-scale compositions by his younger brother.
The Mass received its first performance in modern times at the concert which was recorded for this disc. Rinaldo Alessandrini wrote the liner-notes in the booklet under the pregnant title "Bononcini: The synthesis of ecclesiastical and operatic styles". That is a feature of many sacred works written by Italian composers of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Counterpoint played a significant role in sacred music, and the tutti sections of both works are written in a dense polyphonic style. The arias and ensembles - from duets to five-part episodes - are more in line with the concertante style of the time, and also show the influence of opera. However, even in the polyphonic episodes the fashion of the time shines through, especially in the use of daring harmonies. That is in particular the case in the Stabat mater.
These two compositions are quite different, which leads Alessandrini to suggest that they might have been written for different conditions. The parts of alto and bass in the Stabat mater are relatively high in tessitura, whereas they are much lower in the Mass. He believes that the alto parts in the Mass may originally have been sung by high tenors rather than (castrato) altos. A striking example is the 'Crucifixus' from the Credo. Although Sara Mingardo and Elena Biscuola are rather strong in the low part of their range, a performance by high tenors could have led to a more satisfying result.
It is the contribution of the soloists - in particular the sopranos and altos - which rather disappoints. They use quite a lot of vibrato and almost constantly. This is stylistically untenable and also results in the blending of the voices being less than ideal. There is no lack of expression in these two compositions. In particular the Stabat mater includes some verses for one or two solo voices with some striking text expression. However, their impact is seriously damaged by the vibrato. The 'Suscipe' from the Gloria of the Mass is one of the best parts, and the 'Crucifixus' is relatively good as well. Valerio Contaldo's singing is not marred by vibrato, but he shows too little sensitivity to the text of 'Fac, ut portem' (Stabat mater). Salvo Vitale's contributions are also too straightforward and not sufficiently differentiated.
I have the feeling that the results would have been better if these works had been recorded in the studio. In this live recording the tutti parts come off best by far. Concerto Italiano is an excellent ensemble, and shows its qualities here once again. The instrumentalists also do a fine job, both in the tutti segments and in the sections for solo voices.
This disc's main interest is the repertoire and the expressive quality of these two pieces. It is just unfortunate that they are not ideally served by the interpretations.
Johan van Veen