Corradini canzonas 96191

Nicolò Corradini (1585-1646)
Canzonas and Sonatas – Venice 1624
Ensemble Il Narvalo/Federico Del Sordo (harpsichord and organ)
rec. 2022, Rome and Trevi, Italy
Brilliant Classics 96191 [59]

Nicolò Corradini is yet another name from a seemingly infinite list of little known pre-18th century Italian composers whose work Brilliant Classics have brought to light over the last two decades. Nor is this his first appearance on the label – Federico Del Sordo previously recorded his Ricercari on harpsichord and organ for a disc which was enthustiacally welcomed by Jeroen van Veen a couple of years ago – review. Del Sordo turns up again on this recent issue leading Ensemble Il Narvalo from the keyboard in a complete account of Corradini’s 1624 collection Canzoni francesi a 4 e alcune sonate. As on the previous disc he contributes a brief biography of the composer (it’s assumed he was born in Cremona – he was certainly trained there and worked in the city throughout his life) before sharing a richly informative analysis and a justification for recording these lively, distinctive pieces with a small instrumental ensemble rather than just a keyboard (there are two exceptions in the middle of the sequence). Whilst Corradini’s sets of Ricercari and Canzoni/Sonate are both designated ‘a 4’, each was published in ‘score form’ across four staves. Whilst the 17th century Cremonese musical historian Giuseppe Bresciani stated specifically that the Ricercari were intended for keyboard, Federico Del Sordo contends that the registral ‘distances’ between the notes on the staves of the Canzoni are far more suited to a multi-instrumental group. This was also the approach taken in 2012 by the Aulos Ensemble on their rival recording (Tactus TC580301 – the sole available alternative).

Most of the individual movements are ‘character pieces’ in the French manner, named after or alluding to the Cremonese ‘glitterati’ of the time. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of colour, style and mood within each piece, as well as the abiding contrasts between them. So in the first canzon,La Pallavicina’ (Del Sordo informs us that this refers to the Marquis Alessandro Pallavicino, the dedicatee of the whole sequence) the ‘francesi’ element is palpable from the opening bars – the piece has bounce, elegance and joie d’esprit to burn. An attractive ‘call and response’ strategy permeates many of the pieces and it’s especially evident here. Corradini resolves La Pallavicina most effectively via a theatrical speeding up and slowing down in its closing bars. Ensemble Il Narvalo’s crisp strings create a far more pleasing and immediate impression than the Aulos on Tactus, who also seem to favour consistently swift tempi throughout the cycle which ends up creating a somewhat generic, samey effect. Del Sordo proposes a more stately approach which takes each piece on its merits; his group are also recorded in a more spacious acoustic which better enables performers and listeners alike to savour Corradini’s imaginative instrumental interplay and ear for detail.

Ensemble Il Narvolo produce some ravishing colours over the course of the sequence. From sonorous duelling recorders in La Sartriana (they seem rather more polite on the Tactus disc) and La Taverna, via the delicious timbral contrasts between strings, harpsichord and recorders in La Pessa and especially at the opening of La Sforza (which to my ears at least briefly recalls Passereau’s immortal chanson Il est bel et bon), to the gruff fiddles which introduce La Visconta, Del Sordo also ensures that the listener’s interest is maintained by highlighting the contrasting moods of each piece. Much of the music is lively, so the loneliness and melancholy projected in the eighth canzon La Trecchia seems all the more affecting.

Del Sordo renders two canzoni, No 6 La Sincopata and no 7 La Bizzarra on harpsichord alone. The clue is in their titles – both are clearly not character pieces but refer instead to characteristics of the music – the harmonic twists and turns and staccato middle section of the latter certainly better suit the solo treatment, although the recorders used on the Aulos recording of La Bizzarra are nicely integrated; indeed some listeners may find their instrumental iteration of the piece preferable.

However the contrast between the two recordings is possibly best illustrated by the respective approaches to the third canzonL’Argenta. Del Sordo leads a grave, austere reading; it’s assiduously played and splendidly balanced with his bright harpsichord providing a consoling shaft of light within the mix. On the other hand the Aulos Ensemble maintain the pace they apply in general throughout their disc, leaving the impression of a run-though rather than a considered interpretation.

The four Sonates Corradini appended to the sequence each incorporate competing and contrasting melodic lines which Federico del Sordo not unreasonably describes as ‘madrigalistic’. Apart from their lyrical character, their structures are decidedly more unpredictable than the Canzoni. To my ears the final pair are the most interesting. La Sfrondata is a duo for cornet and a particularly fruity organ. Best of all is the concluding La Golferrama, a challenging number for a pair of agile cornets. (Considering its odd title, one might speculate whether Corradini actually intended it for use at the opening ceremony of the 1624 edition of the Ryder Cup.) Again it’s easy to prefer the new recording of the Sonates which seems much more characterful and alive than the admittedly well-played Aulos Ensemble alternative.

In conclusion, while Nicolò Corradini’s rather sparse catalogue might have languished in the vaults for far too long, the quality and variety of these amiable little jewels shine through in Ensemble Il Narvalo’s dedicated and stylish performances. It’s a sunny, life affirming disc – a real tonic on a drab, sub-zero January morning in Lancashire.

Richard Hanlon

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1. Canzon prima – La pallavicina
2. Canzon seconda – La sartirana
3. Canzon terza – L’argenta
4. Canzon quarta – La sforza
5. Canzon quinta – La visconta
6. Canzon sexta – La sincopata
7. Canzon settima – La bizzarra
8. Canzon ottava – La treccha
9. Canzon nona – La pessa
10. Canzon decima – La taverna
11. Suonata a quattro, 2 bassi & 2 soprani – La soragna
12. Suonata a tre, basso & 2 soprani – La marcha
13. Suonata a due, basso & soprano – La sfrondata
14. Suonata a due cornetti in risposta – La golferamma