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Pietro Gaetano BONI (c.1686-after 1741)
Sonatas for Cello and basso continuo Op. 1 (1717)
No. 2 in C minor [8.39]; No. 3 in D major [6.44]; No. 9 in G minor [7.07]; No. 1 in A major [6.50]; No. 11 in E minor [8.45]; No. 10 in C major [9.13]; No. 12 in D minor [7.05]; No. 8 in F major [8.08]
Andrea Fossá (solo cello); Anna Fontana (harpsichord); Francisco Gato (archlute); Andrea de Carlo (viola da gamba); Renato Criscuolo (cello)
rec. 19-21 June 2006, Church of San Giovanni Battista, Sacrofano, Rome
DYNAMIC CDS584 [62.33]
Experience Classicsonline

You could be forgiven for thinking that these expressive sonatas are by Corelli. You wouldn’t be far off the mark as it was due to the great master that Boni was poached from Bologna to Rome in 1711. However, with Corelli dying just two years later they probably never worked together. It is improbable that Corelli would have created these pieces. They are, after all, sonatas for cello: an unusual form for the time if not unique and they pre-date Bach’s Sonatas.
Some movements - like the second from the 11th Sonata - seem to be Corelli-inspired. However their structure is such that they could not be by Corelli. Corelli’s op. 5 Sonatas, for violin, tend to be multi-movement pieces with a swift alternation of Allegro and Largo. Boni never exceeds four movements there are no tempo changes within movements and there is no repetitive ordering of movements. The serious G minor Sonata begins Largo, then comes an Allegro marked ‘Alla Francese’ then an even faster Allegro. The following cheerful A major Sonata has four movements: Andante, Allegro, Adagio and Allegro. Despite the extra movement this Sonata works out to be an even shorter work than the G minor largely because of its minuscule finale.
‘Alla Francese’ appears six times in these sonatas. Andrea Fossŕ in his booklet notes attempts an explanation of the term: “It could be read both as purely performance suggestion (notes inégalité or a particular bow stroke) or simply to indicate a form that was in vogue at the time, thus evoking in a generic sense a type of movement or character”. I hope that’s clear!
Speaking of these notes they fail to give Boni’s dates or much in the way of biography. There are several rehearsal photographs what annotation there is deals mainly with the music. Now that’s fine but very few of us will know much about Pietro Boni. Even if you go on Wikipedia you find almost nothing. Incidentally, the booklet has a wonderful caricature etching of Boni on its back page. He was also a composer of cantatas and opera and having started in Bologna where he studied at the prestigious Academia Filarmonica he moved to Rome. It was as a cellist that he built his reputation and if these works are anything to go by he must have been a virtuoso. Listen, if you can, to the final Allegro of the second Sonata in C minor or the Allegro of the D minor. It is however the expressive and quite solemn Largo movements which stand out for me. Somewhat curiously the works have been placed on the disc in the order I have set out at the top: not numerically.
Five musicians have been involved in the recording. The harpsichord which discreetly decorates its line and the archlute play in each sonata. I find the sonatas (1, 3, 10) accompanied by a continuo which uses another cello a little too heavy in the bass department. That may also be because the continuo is placed slightly too forward in the overall stereo field.
There is no doubt however that Andrea Fossá is the real star of the show. When not playing he is teaching Early Music and baroque cello at the University of Palermo and, indeed, editing Boni’s sonatas. Sadly I can tell you nothing about the instruments being used here except that I do not like the sound of Fossa’s instrument. Nevertheless I would like to know more about it.
All in all, this disc is probably more for the specialist than general baroque enthusiast. Even so, it is full of attractive and often very beautiful music. With the dissemination of new editions more cellists should attempt to tackle these sonatas. We are most indebted to Andrea Fossá in particular and to all of the performers, as well as to Dynamic, for their work. Let’s wish the project every success.
Gary Higginson


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