Lusitano Impero Portugese Baroque Passacaille PAS1127

Lusitano Impero
Hidden gems of the Portuguese Baroque
Ana Quintans (soprano)*, Hugo Oliveira (baritone)**
Real Câmara Baroque Orchestra/Enrico Onofri (violin)
rec. 2022, Mosteiro de São Bento da Vitória, Porto (Portugal)
Texts and translations included
Passacaille PAS1127 [71]

The disc under review promises “hidden gems of the Portuguese Baroque”. A look at the track-list reveals that a substantial part of them was written by Italians. That cannot come as a surprise, as the influence of the Italian style made itself felt across Europe. That was partly due to the fact that quite a number of Italian composers settled elsewhere, for instance in Vienna, Paris and London. In the case of Portugal, there was an additional factor. In 1707, João IV ascended the throne, and as he wanted to create a “cosmopolitan image of wealth and splendour”, as the liner-notes put it; the climate was ideal for Italian composers to become part of the music scene. In 1716, the Royal Chapel was elevated to the status of Metropolitan and Patriarchal Basilica. In 1735, Gaetano Maria Schiassi, who was from Bologna, opened the first public opera house, the Academia da Trindade.

Pietro Antonio Avondano was, strictly speaking, Portuguese by birth, but his father, Pietro Giorgio, was from Genoa and had entered the service of the Royal Chapel as a violinist. His son also became a violinist in the chapel, and among his duties was the composition of ballets for opera performances at the court. Several sets of minuets, published in London in the 1760s and 70s, are the result of these activities. He also wrote a number of sacred dramas and oratorios, but only a few of them have been preserved complete. On this disc, he is represented by five of his eight trios for two violins and basso continuo. Three of them have been preserved in Dresden, the other five in Munich, and the latter are included here. They bear the title Divertimenti da Cammera a Due Violini e Basso, which gives a fair idea of their character. They are not intended to offer expressive depth, but musical entertainment. They consist of four movements, following largely the model of the sonata da chiesa. Counterpoint plays a large part in these pieces, in which the first violin part has a leading role. In this recording, they are performed in ‘orchestral versions’. Miguel Jalôto created them under the inspiration of the practice in Italy to perform trio sonatas with larger forces (just as concerti grossi could be performed as trios). The transformation of chamber music into pieces like the concerto grosso was well-known at the time; the liner-notes refer to Francesco Geminiani’s arrangements of Corelli’s Sonatas Op 5. There is nothing wrong with these versions; even so, I would like to hear them in their original form as well.

The rest of the disc offers vocal music, and here we have a problem that many attempting to give an impression of music life in a country, region or town have to deal with: many vocal works – oratorios, serenatas, operas – are either completely lost or have survived incomplete. A case in point is Farnace, an opera seria by Giovanni Bononcini, who had been active in London. In 1735, this opera was performed in the Academia da Trindade in Lisbon. The information about it is a little confusing. According to New Grove, it was first performed in London in 1723; it is mentioned that ten arias have survived. According to the liner-notes for the present disc, the aria ‘Mio sposo t’arresta’ is the only one which survives. It is hard to believe that this is a different work from that mentioned in New Grove.

Rinaldo di Capua was a composer from Naples. It seems that Rinaldo is in fact his last name; di Capua refers to the town where he was born, about thirty kilometres north of Naples. For most of his life he worked in Rome, but he also spent some time in Lisbon. Here he composed at least three operas to libretti by Pietro Metastasio, among them Catone in Utica, another work that has not survived complete.

Lastly, is Francisco António de Almeida, about whose life not that much is known. When Naxos released a recording of Il Trionfo d’Amore, a so-called scherzo pastorale (2015), the year of his death was given as c.1755, suggesting that he may have been one of the victims of the earthquake. The present disc sets it at 1754, which makes that rather unlikely. Between 1722 and 1726 he worked in Rome, where some oratorios of his pen were performed. After his return to Lisbon, he became organist at the court, and he composed a number of serenatas, many of which have been lost. One of them is Il Vaticinio di Pallade, e di Mercurio, from which the aria ‘Ogni fronda ch’è mossa dal vento’ is performed. The other two arias are taken from La Pazienza di Socrate (1733), the first comic opera in Italian written by a Portuguese composer. Again, this work has come down to us incomplete.

The latter two arias are sung brilliantly by Hugo Oliveira. They show a strong similarity with the intermezzi by the likes of Pergolesi, and Oliveira sounds entirely at home here. The other three arias are performed by Ana Quintans, who is an experienced interpreter of Italian opera, which shows. She does exactly what is needed in each of them, exploring the emotions to the full. She has a nice voice, and is a pleasure to hear. The only issue is that she goes a little over the top in the cadenzas.

In recent years, Enrico Onofri, best-known as a violinist, has directed several recordings of music from Portugal, and that cannot be appreciated enough. This part of Europe is still a bit of a blank on the musical map. This disc is an interesting contribution to our knowledge of the music scene in Portugal. Onofri here acts as the director and first violinist of Real Câmara, which is a fine ensemble, delivering excellent performances of the pieces by Avondano and showing a good feeling for the theatrical atmosphere in the arias.

Johan van Veen

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Pietro Antonio Avondano (1692-c1755?)
Divertimento I in C minor
Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
Mio sposo t’arresta*
Pietro Antonio Avondano
Divertimento II in G
Francesco António de Almeida (1703-1754)
La Pazienza di Socrate:
Nell’incognito soggiorno**
Il Vaticinio di Pallade, e di Mercurio:
Ogni fronda ch’è mossa dal vento*
Pietro Antonio Avondano
Divertimento III in A minor
? Rinaldo di Capua (c1705-c1780)
Catone in Utica:
Nacqui agli affanni in seno*
Pietro Antonio Avondano
Divertimento IV in D minor
Francesco António de Almeida
La Pazienza di Socrate:
Camminante che non cura**
Pietro Antonio Avondano
Divertimento V in E minor