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João Domingos BOMTEMPO (1771-1842)
Complete Piano Sonatas
Luísa Tender (piano)
rec. 2018, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal
GRAND PIANO GP801-02 [68:53+79:17]

To help place the Portuguese composer Joao Domingos Bomtempo in time, consider the following: he was born in Lisbon sixteen years after the great earthquake; his life overlapped the Napoleonic incursion into Portugal and the absence of the Portuguese royal family in Brazil; he dwelt for a time in London, returning to Lisbon from time to time during 1815-1821.

The eleven piano sonatas date from his stays in London and Paris. They have been published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in facsimile edition (1980). We are told in Luisa Tender's thoughtful four page note that Op. 9 no, 3 has a fully written violin line above the stave and for that reason has been not included in this set. The sonatas that have been included vary between two and four movements but most are in three. Five of them are entitled Grande Sonate and one as An Easy Sonata.

They are in an early Beethovenian style: ebullient, grandly turned and stepping out with dignity. The Op. 5 Sonata sets out by forcing a marriage of dance motifs with vigorous motion. Op. 9 No. 1 is delightfully optimistic but with shallow currents of sorrow that strangely lift the mood. The finale is a tongue-twister of a Vivace and vivacity is certainly part of the make-up on show. A glittering and glistening Rondo ends Op. 9 no. 2. The little Op. 13 Easy Sonata that concludes CD 1 has a bell-ringing valediction in the form of a Rondo.

CD 2, at upwards of 79 minutes, has more than 11 minutes more music than CD 1. The six sonatas here are all in three purposeful movements apart from Op. 15 no. 2. Op. 15 no. 1 gallops along, all brisk, joyous optimism, in its outer movements. Op. 15 no. 2 has a long first pair of movements and is dignified and sober. There is a shadow of the funereal about it. This mood is offset by a finale that lays plausible claim to a Presto Assai. Op. 18 no. 1 has an Allegro Moderato that is just a shade unrelenting for comfort. The same goes for its Rondo.

The Allegro Risoluto of Op. 18 no. 2 is predominantly stern but soon Bomtempo relaxes from his asseveration into trilling, “babbling brook” ways. The playful Allegro Scherzando of Op. 18 no. 3 is of a similar stamp although its preceding two movements are more thoughtful and less predictable in their ways. We finish with Op. 20, which is termed a Grande Sonate, and lives up to its declared Grande bloodline. This work rather stands out in the company of Bomtempo's other works. Beethoven and Mozart are mentioned in the liner-note and they seem fitting models or comparators. The first of these three movements stands out for its inventive twists and turns. There is also plenty to engage heart and mind. Grand flourishes and modest endearments are the order of the day, more so than in the other sonatas and not a note is wasted. It’s also notable for being three times as long.

I first came across Bomtempo’s name and music when exploring Portuguese music some twenty years ago through the now seemingly sunken catalogue of Strauss-Portusom. Would that Brilliant Classics could acquire and issue that treasury of Portuguese treasures and rarities and release them wholesale as they did for the music of Mexico as recorded by ASV. We can but hope. I should add that Bomtempo’s two symphonies can be easily heard on Naxos (review ~ review).

Ms. Tender, who was born in Porto, provides a note which appears in English and Portuguese. She recorded this music at the Calouste Gulbenkian Centre in Lisbon. All credit to her for bringing these lively sonatas into a courtyard lit by welcoming sunshine.

Rob Barnett

F major, op. 1, "Grande Sonate" [12:47]
C minor, op. 5, "Grande Sonate" [15:05]
E-flat major, op. 9, no. 1, "Grand Sonata" [17:16]
C major, op. 9, no. 2, "Grand Sonata" [14:45]
C major, op. 13, "An Easy Sonata" [8:49]
A-flat major, op. 15, no. 1 [15:52]
G minor, op. 15, no. 2 [7:35]
G major, op. 18, no. 1 [7:13]
F minor, op. 18, no. 2 [10:33]
E-flat major, op. 18, no. 3 [11:05]
E-flat major, op. 20, "Grande Sonate" [26:47]

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