Nardini – Sonatas for Two German Flutes and a Bass

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Six Sonatas for two German Flutes and a Bass

Il Bell’Accordo Ensemble [Gabriele Formenti (flute & direction), Giona Saporiti (flute), Gioele Gusberti (cello) & Gabriele Toia (harpsichord)]

Recorded 4-6 August 2006 in the Protoromanic Church Pieve San Martino, Palazzo Pignano (CR)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: November 2007
Duration: 70 minutes

Pietro Nardini (1722-1793) is probably Tartini’s most famous pupil; according to Burney, he was certainly one of the elder master’s favourites. Nardini went on to become a virtuoso violinist and teacher, travelling as far abroad as Vienna, Stuttgart and Brunswick before becoming music director at the chapel of the court of the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany in Florence, which position he held until his death. Despite his great technical facility, he seems to have been most praised for the beauty and lyricism of his playing.

This is the first recording on period instruments of Nardini’s six sonatas for two flutes and bass. Despite their publication date of circa 1770, these works are essentially trio-sonatas, on the whole more galant than classical in outlook. Thus the choice of a two-manual French-style harpsichord instead of a fortepiano as an accompanying instrument. As Gabriele Formenti says in his brief booklet note, “Nardini appears to be smiling over the past … (using a harpsichord) appears more appropriate to the exquisitely baroque and gallant atmospheres which characterise all of Nardini’s work.”

Each sonata is cast in three movements. Il Bell’Accordo Ensemble has placed the two fast-slow-fast sonatas at the beginning and end of the programme; the rest, which have a slow-fast-fast layout, come in between. The writing is sometimes imitative and contrapuntal, sometimes more homophonic, with the flutes weaving melodious curves or singing in parallel consonant intervals while the cello fully partakes of an attractive, mobile bass line. Only occasionally do you sense Nardini’s inspiration flagging and feel that this music is maybe more enjoyable to play than to listen to.

The decision not to use a fortepiano was surely the right one. Not only is the music itself of an extremely refined nature; the brighter resonance and slightly more rapid decay of the harpsichord’s palette serve to highlight the rich, warm sound of the wooden transverse flutes. Il Bell’Accordo Ensemble fully lives up to its name: Formenti and Giona Saporiti evince a musicality that is neither attention-grabbing nor self-effacing – it is quite simply ideal for a composer who looks back to Corelli and forward to Haydn and Mozart.

Gioele Gusberti too knows when to highlight a salient line and when to recede into the background, while Gabriele Toia’s accompaniment is so much more than that – it is an equal partner in the overall texture.

The recorded sound is lucid and somewhat intimate in character, while the balance is a natural one, allowing the listener more fully to savour the qualities of each instrument. This superb release comes with Discantica’s 2007-2008 catalogue.

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