Nardini violins 96873

Pietro Nardini (1722-1793)
Complete Music for 2 Violins
Six Sonatas for two Violins and b.c., 1768
Sonata for two violins and bc in A
Fourteen New Italian Minuets for two Violins and bc, c1670
Six Duets for two Violins, c1765
Duet for two Violins ‘Romance’
Ensemble Violini Capricciosi/Igor Ruhadze
rec. 2021/22, Emmaus Convent, Velp, Netherlands
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download
Brilliant Classics 96873 [3 CDs: 210]

Pietro Nardini’s oeuvre is not frequently performed and recorded and his name seldom appears on the programmes of concerts. In the course of my many years of reviewing, only two discs with music from his pen have crossed my path. It is a mystery why he attracts so little attention, as he was quite a celebrity in his time, so this set of three discs released by Brilliant Classics is a welcome contribution to the discography.

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. Soon he developed into Tartini’s favourite and most gifted student. Nardini always held his teacher in high esteem, and was at his side in the hour of his death. He developed into one of the greatest violinists of his time and travelled across Europe as a performing virtuoso. 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 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. There he remained until his death. He had various pupils who developed into famous performers.

He 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, too and was also impressed by Nardini’s playing. “Signor Nardini played both a solo and a concerto, of his own composition, in such a manner as to leave nothing to wish: his tone is even en sweet; not very loud, but clear and certain; he has a great deal of expression in his slow movements, which, it is said, he has happily caught from his teacher Tartini. As to execution, he will satisfy and please more than surprize: in short, he seems the completest player on the violin in all Italy; and, according to my feelings and judgment, his stile is delicate, judicious, and highly finished.”

Nardini’s compositional oeuvre is not that large, but substantial. It comprises concertos for violin and for transverse flute as well as some overtures, solo and trio sonatas for violin(s), duets for two violins, string quartets and a few harpsichord pieces. As the printed editions of his music are mostly undated, it is hard to establish when they were written. The dates of his birth and death suggest that he was a composer from the (early) classical period, but the recording under review here shows that this is not entirely correct. The string quartet was a classical genre, and his six works of this kind represent the classical phase in his career; they were published in the early 1780s. The present production opens with six trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, and fit into the baroque tradition of writing music for amateurs. Many composers of the baroque period started with publishing a set of trio sonatas to demonstrate their command of counterpoint. It was also profitable as such pieces were not that technically demanding and therefore perfectly suited for the growing market of amateurs.

Nardini’s trio sonatas are also intended for amateurs. The fact that Nardini suggests transverse flutes as alternatives to the violins attests to that. This indicates that the techniques which were a feature of violin music for professionals, such as double stopping, were avoided. All six sonatas, which were published in London in 1768, are in three movements, either slow – fast – fast or fast – slow – fast. This was the time when the galant idiom was embraced across Europe, and that has left its mark in these sonatas as well. They include episodes in which the two violins play in parallel motion, as well as drum basses. The first of the two fast movements is always the longest and the most substantial, whereas the closing movement has a lighter character. The ‘slow’ movements are not really slow: they have the indication andante or adagio ma non troppo. The single Trio sonata in A, that has been preserved in manuscript, is not fundamentally different from the six sonatas of 1768.

The XIV New Italian Minuets for two Violins and a Bass, published in London around 1760, are stylistically comparable with the trio sonatas. Rudolf Rasch, in his liner-notes, characterises them as “short, unpretentious pieces, but very skilfully composed and a joy to listen to”. I can only agree with this assessment. Again, there are many episodes in parallel motion. The minuet was one of the most popular dances at the time, so much so that Rasch talks about a ‘menuettomania’.

The six duets for two violins that were published in Paris around 1765 are stylistically not fundamentally different from the trio sonatas, but technically they are a different kettle of fish. These are not so much intended for the average amateurs, but the most skilful among them and for professionals. The technique of double stopping is used here; an impressive example is the largo assai of the Duet No. 6 in B flat. It is notable that two of the duets refer to extra-musical phenomena. All three movements of the Duet No. 3 in D refer to animals: the cuckoo, the quail and the nightingale in the first movement, the frog in the second and the chicken in the third. The closing movement of the Duet No. 4 in F is called La Caccia, and includes imitations of horn blowing.

The recording closes with a Romance for two violins, included in an edition of Francesco Geminiani’s L’art de violon from 1800, which in fact, according to Rasch, has little to do with Geminiani’s original treatise.

The importance of this release can hardly be overstated. This is not music that is going to shock the musical world, but its quality is such that it is a worthwhile addition to the repertoire. Many collections of trio sonatas are available to interpreters, but these seven pieces by Nardini are a nice complement. It seems to me that in particular the duets deserve the attention of performers. Not that much has been written for this scoring, and these duets are excellent stuff. For me, they are the best and most interesting part of this release. I hope that Igor Ruhadze is going to delve further into Nardini’s oeuvre; a recording of the violin concertos would be most welcome. Previously he has recorded fine performances of concertos by Locatelli and Leclair, and here he shows that he is an excellent interpreter of Italian music. Daria Gorban is his equal partner at the violin. Jacopo Ristori (cello) and Anastasiya Akinfina at the harpsichord are responsible for a sound foundation.

This production is a well-deserved recognition of a neglected composer.

Johan van Veen

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music