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CD of the Week: Bononcini

Bononcini: Messa, Stabat Mater
Naïve

The cover of this CD had me quivering with righteous outrage. Bononcini is one of the bad boys of music history. He came to London around 1720, stole Handel’s aristocratic patrons and half his audience and left him at the very edge of bankruptcy.

Like Salieri with Mozart, Bononcini did enough to drive a great composer to drink and distraction without leaving works of his own that might justify his intrigues. Like Salieri, Boncini earned prolonged and richly deserved oblivion. I have never knowingly listened to a note of his music, the rotter.

That, however, was Giovanni Battista Bononcini (1670-1747). This present disc contains two liturgical works by his kid brother, Antonio (1677-1726), a Modena cellist who became Kapellmeister in Vienna in 1726. The music is very much of its time and type, soothing and reassuring rather than strikingly original, but many of the eight soloists’ vocal lines are beautifully turned and the cohesion that director Rinaldo Alessandrini achieve with the Concerto Italiano choir and orchestra is altogether impeccable.

Recorded live at Vienna’s adventurous Konzerthaus, the music is seductive beyond all reasonable expectations. Silvia Frigato and Sara Mingardo are the standout soloists and the acoustic is near-perfect. When someone mentions Bononcini in future you’re going to have to ask, which one?

Three John Cage centenary CDs

As It Is
ECM New Series

Just when you think you know Cage, he springs a new surprise. The pianist Alexei Lubimov and singer Natalia Pschetnikova, veterans of a 1988 Moscow Cage-in, perform pieces for prepared piano and poems by e. e. cumming, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce. Stunning, simply stunning.

String Quartet
Wigmore Hall Live

The quartet of 1950 is not Cage’s finest half-hour and can, indeed, often seem a good deal longer. Written in quiet repetitions that anticipate the minimalism of the 1980s, the piece is chiefly of historic interest. That said, the Jack Quartet give it a taut, alert reading, between works of Ligeti, Pintscher and Xenakis.

Sonatas and Interludes
HatNowArt

‘A ping qualified by a thud’ is how the conservative composer Virgil Thomson described these 20 pieces, but what did he know? Played here by James Tenney, who said they changed his life at age 16, they might well change your perceptions of the sounds it is possible to extract from a piano, prepared or otherwise. Almost definitive.

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Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.