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Pietro NARDINI (1722 - 1793): "Sonatas for Strings"

Ensemble Ardi cor mio

rec: 2006, Livorno, Spazi Sonori Classic
Brilliant Classics - 93347 (79'50")

Minuet for 2 violins and bc No 2 in Dabcd [1]; Minuet for 2 violins and bc No 5 in Gabcd [1]; Minuet for 2 violins and bc No 6 in Dabcd [1]; Minuet for 2 violins and bc No 13 in Gabcd [1]; Sonata for harpsichord in E flatd; Sonata 'Enigmatica' for violin in Fa [4]; Sonata for violin and bc in Cbcd [2]; Sonata for violin and bc in d minoracd [2]; Sonata for violin and cello in Cac; Sonata I for 2 violins in Dab [3]; Sonata II for 2 violins in E flatab [3]; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in Aabcd

(Sources: [1] Fourteen New Italian Minuets for Two Violins & a Bass, c1750?; [2] Six Solos for a Violin with a Bass for the Harpsichord or Violoncello, c1760; [3] Six Sonatas or Duets for two Violins compos'd by Sig.r Nardini and Ferari, op. 2, c1765; [4] Cartier, ed., L'Art du Violon, 1803)

Renata Sfrisoa, Maurizio Cadossib, violin; Caroline Boersma, celloc; Gabriele Micheli, harpsichordd

Pietro Nardini may not be an unknown name to many lovers of pre-romantic music, but his music is largely an unknown quantity. I can't remember having ever heard a composition by him. But in his time he had quite a reputation, in particular as a violin virtuoso. Father and son Mozart have heard him, and Leopold was full of praise for Nardini's playing: "The beauty, purity and evenness of his tone and his cantabile cannot be surpassed".

Nardini was born in Lucca and was accepted as pupil of Tartini at the age of 12. Soon he developed into Tartini's favourite and most gifted student. Nardini always held his teacher in high esteem, and even was at his side in the hour of his death. Although Nardini mainly worked in Italy - giving concerts and teaching - he regularly travelled abroad. In 1760 he played in Vienna, and from 1762 to 1765 he was a member of the court orchestra in Stuttgart, under the direction of Niccolò Jommelli. In 1768 he was appointed solo violinist, and later music director of the court chapel in Florence.
As a violinist he was especially famous for his playing of adagios, with which he was able to deeply move his audience. Nardini's own compositions are more lyrical than dramatic - like that of his teacher Tartini. As he was working in the time between baroque and classicism his work shows the stylistic variety which is characteristic of this period.

The programme on this disc reflects this. The opening sonata, entitled Trio in the manuscript, is largely written in the style of the baroque trio sonata. The minuets are from a collection of 14 minuets; as the manuscript is undated it is impossible to tell when they have been composed, but their style suggests these are rather early works. The other pieces reflect a more modern taste in several ways. The two sonatas for violin and bc, for instance, are in three movements and follow the galant pattern of slow - fast - fast. The two duets for violins and the keyboard sonata are in two movements, which puts them into the realm of the diverting music, especially popular among the bourgeoisie.
One of the most remarkable compositions is the Sonata Enigmatica, which has to be played with sordatura, a practice which was not often used in Italy, but especially popular in Germany, although mostly before 1700. The authenticity of this piece is not fully established, by the way.

Considering the fact that there are almost no recordings with works by Nardini this disc is most welcome. The only previous recording I have been able to track down was also made by this ensemble, in 1999 on the Italian label Tactus. But I have never heard that recording. I am not sure if I want to hear it as this new recording by the same ensemble is rather disappointing. The qualities of Nardini's music referred to before are hardly recognizable in the performances by Ardi cor mio. What I find especially unpleasant is the frequent use of vibrato by the violinists. It use it much more than just as ornamentation. It is rather odd that the cellist hardly uses it: the difference in style of playing is all too evident in the sonata for violin and cello, where Renat Sfriso uses a lot of vibrato, but hardly makes any dynamic differences within phrases, whereas in Caroline Boersma's playing it is just the other way round. If only the slow movements were expressive, that would kind of make up for the vibrato-ridden fast movements. But there is too little of that too. In addition I find the sound of this recording not very pleasant: the tone of the violins is rather sharp and obtrusive.

The only reason I can imagine to buy this disc is because Nardini's music is severely underrated and almost totally absent in the catalogue. But I sincerely hope other musicians are going to record some of his music. Hopefully they show the real qualities of Nardini's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

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