Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bononcini: Divertimenti e Cantate da Camera

Scion of one of Italy’s most musical 17th-century families, Giovanni Bononcini became such a force in an era when the oratorio was king that he rivaled Handel in popularity across the continent. Venturing from Italy to England and back again, Bononcini was branded something of a political malcontent, though the music heard in this set has all of the political dogma of a John Clare poem: which is to say, none at all, a music of mead and meadow, an image that I assume the sylphs on the booklet’s cover are meant to conjure in their contented gazes.

All eight divertimentos are notably fugue-like, the recorder responsible for the bulk of the melody, and the bass locked in an idée fixe of responding, rather than ever dictating, movement or progression. Bononcini was fond of this notion of musical dialogue in most of his works, and the divertimentos were marketed in their time as for both violin and flute, not merely, I think, for maximizing sheet music sales, but because of Bononcini’s intrinsically dualistic style of composition. These are neither primarily violin nor flute works.

Single melody lines are rare; nearly everything proceeds in sets of two. In the instances of a single line harmonic line, it’s usually quickly doubled by another. You probably won’t discern too much theatricality in this music, despite its conversational qualities—all I want to do when I hear it is find a glen and gaze at warblers—but Bononcini’s music was a big hit on the stage in the early 18th century—until, that is, he was accused of appropriating someone else’s work. He’s not exactly bereft of ideas even within a single movement of a given piece—Christina Miatello has to vary her voice endlessly in the cantatas—so one isn’t sure what to make of a charge that might have resulted from professional jealousy, but nonetheless, Bononcini hightailed it out of England.

An association with the Duke of Marlborough—one of Charles II’s rakehell cronies—probably didn’t help tear away reputation, but there’s nothing needlessly inflammatory that I’ve ever heard in Bononcini. Rather, he celebrates the natural world as its own sacred zone—something telluric having become spiritual, the glade replacing the chancel. I find it odd that he spent so much of his time in major metropolises, but it’s nice to hear how the recording picks up on myriad details—in some instances, the removal of recorder from mouth—as the ears do when far off in the country, without any frustrating distractions. Stradivarius has a fine set of divertimentos with the Tripla Concordia ensemble if you’d like something to bookend what’s here, though this material is rather self-sustaining in its presentation of Bononcini in all his rustic splendor. --FANFARE: Colin Fleming

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