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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]

Information received

Since first writing this review I have been extremely grateful to our reader Rob Sykes who has written to say that he agrees that these are “certainly very worthwhile pieces. … Both the omitted violin/keyboard sonata op.9 no.3 … and a Grande Fantasia op.14 for solo piano are included, along with all the other pieces, in a set of four separate CDs performed by Philippe Marques (with Tamila Kharambura in the violin/piano piece) on the Movimento Patrimonial pela Música Portuguesa (MPMP) label. These can be ordered direct from MPMP (, as can discs in their [intended] complete traversal of Carlos Seixas's keyboard sonatas …. Their Bomtempo discs seem to me strong performances, though I have not yet obtained the fourth and final one featuring the op.20 Grande Sonata and the fantasia. … The defunct Strauss/Portugalsom label also released at least two CDs of Bomtempo's sonatas, as well as some of his orchestral, choral and chamber works. I wholeheartedly endorse the wish that this label's recordings might find a new home and be re-released. The same goes for those of its successor, Numerica, which ceased trading a couple of years ago. Between them they had amassed an impressive catalogue of Portuguese music old and new, whose absence leaves a regrettable gap in the European recorded repertoire, notwithstanding the valuable efforts of the MPMP and other labels including Naxos and Toccata. [By the way] … the timings of the first three MPMP discs (less the substantial violin/keyboard sonata) add up to over 25% more than the timings given for the same 10 sonatas in the Grand Piano set - an extra 33 minutes (explaining in part why the former set runs to four discs rather than two, despite including only two additional pieces). It occurs to me that the extra time may result from inclusion vs omission of exposition repeats.”

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