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Pietro NARDINI (1722 - 1793): "Complete String Quartets"

Quartetto Eleusi

rec: Jan 20 - 22, 2012, Padua, Scuola della Carità
Brilliant Classics - 94338 (© 2013) (68'40")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Quartet No. 1 in A; Quartet No. 2 in C; Quartet No. 3 in B flat; Quartet No. 4 in F; Quartet No. 5 in G; Quartet No. 6 in E flat

Mauro Massa, Andrea Vassalle, violin; Simone Laghi, viola; Valeria Brunelli, cello

Few music lovers will never have heard the name of Pietro Nardini, but whether they have ever heard his music is a different matter. Over the years I had not heard anything from his pen until Brilliant Classics released a disc with 'Sonatas for Strings' with the Ensemble Ardi cor mio. It included some of the Fourteen New Italian Minuets for Two Violins & a Bass which were printed in London around 1750 and are considered his earliest compositions.

Nardini was born in Livorno and after having received his first lessons on the violin there he became a pupil of Giuseppe Tartini in 1734. He developed into one of the greatest violinists of his time and travelled across Europe as a performing virtuoso. During the 1760s he gave concerts in Austria and Germany. In 1768 he settled in Florence where he was appointed solo violinist and two years later music director of the chapel of the court of Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany. Here he remained until his death. He had various pupils who developed into famous performers.

Nardini was noted for his perfect technique, bow control and sound. Leopold Mozart was full of praise: "The beauty, purity and evenness of his tone and his cantabile cannot be surpassed". In April 1770 he visited Nardini with Wolfgang, and the virtuoso and the young prodigy played together. In September of that year Charles Burney paid him a visit as well. Nardini was especially famous for his performances of adagios. This is an indication that he felt more attracted to lyricism and expression than to virtuosity which is in line with the preferences of his teacher Tartini.

This disc is devoted to his string quartets. The title says "Complete String Quartets" but in his liner-notes Federico Marri refers to two further quartets which have been preserved in manuscript. These are not included here (*). The six quartets were printed in Florence, probably in 1782, but seem to have been composed earlier. According to New Grove they were written in the 1770s, but Marri states that Nardini started composing quartets in the years 1765-67. It is quite possible that they were written at various stages in Nardini's career as the first three are different from the last. That concerns especially the balance within the ensemble: in the first three quartets the focus is on the two violins. In the later quartets the viola and cello play an extended role: the former comes forward in the allegro of the Quartet No. 4, whereas the cello has a solo episode in the allegro from the Quartet No. 6. The liner-notes mention that string quartet lovers in Germany who had purchased his quartets were not satisfied with them because they didn't meet their expectations. It is not mentioned what exactly they didn't like about them.

These quartets are all in two movements: an allegro and a movement in a more moderate tempo, mostly andante. Only the Quartet No. 2 has three movements, although the adagio in the middle lasts just over 90 seconds. It is preceded by an allegro which ends with a short transitional slow passage; the two movements are played attacca. The Quartet No. 4 opens with a short adagio which is a kind of prelude to the ensuing allegro, more or less like the slow introductions in some classical symphonies. These two movements are again played attacca. Nardini states that his adagios were unsuitable for the medium of a string quartet. The second movements here come pretty close in regard to expression. The comodo from the Quartet No. 1, the andante from the Quartet No. 3 and the andante legato from the Quartet No. 6 are noteworthy examples of Nardini's skills in writing expressive music.

I was not very satisfied with the disc of the Ensemble Ardi cor mio mentioned in the first paragraph. This recording is different: the Quartetto Eleusi, playing on period instruments, deliver excellent performances and bring out all the qualities of Nardini's quartets. They were written for amateurs, as were many string quartets of the time, including the earliest sets by Haydn. They may be not technically very complicated but that is more than compensated for by their content. They are a good combination of entertainment and expression and it is regrettable that they are hardly ever performed. This disc should help to make them better known.

(*) After this review was first published on MusicWeb International Simone Laghi sent me a tweet in which he announced that the two unpublished quartets will be recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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