Bononcini Vocal & Chamber Works
Giovanni Bononcini is remembered today mainly as one of Handel's rivals on the London operatic scene of the 1720s, and needless to say he often emerges from the resultant comparisons a little unfavourably. Certainly he never achieved the breadth and scale of Handel's finest vocal compositions and in the end he lost out in this country because, next to those, his music sounded a touch old-fashioned; but in fact Bononcini's vocal works had already brought him considerable fame in many parts of Europe, and, initially at least, he offered the German composer some serious competition.
Born in Modena in 1670, he had worked with great success in Bologna, Rome and Vienna before settling for a 12-year spell in London in 1720, and at the time the respective strengths of the two composers were recognized as the brilliant portrayal of heroic and bold emotions on Handel's part, and the ability to evoke pastoral moods and tender expressions of love and longing on Bononcini's. These last are well illustrated in the four cantatas on this attractively put-together release, which on its own is enough to make a significant improvement to Bononcini's current representation on disc.
In keeping with the music's style of pleasurable melancholy, the performers show themselves incapable of making an ugly sound. Gerard Lesne produces a pleasingly substantial and well-supported tone and is intelligently responsive to text, yet he shows none of the eccentricities one has come to associate with some continental countertenors. Likewise the string- and continuo-players of Il Seminario Musicale—who in varying combinations add colour and depth to the cantatas as well as getting their own chance to shine in the two sonatas—perform sensitively, sometimes boldly, but without ever forgetting to let the music be what it wants to be, which is delectable in the extreme.'