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The recorded sound of this 'Il Bell'Accordo Ensemble' -- a group using varying personnel, founded by Gabriele Formenti during the mastercourse in Musico Antico held annually at Urbino, subsequently affiliated to the University of Milan (and on this occasion an all-male quartet) -- is quite immediate: some might view it as a little too direct, just at the start, in Sonata No 6: but specialists might view it as pleasingly lucid. Each movement lasts between three and five minutes, with some repeats but never too many, and those there are are often stylishly varied, usually by the composer but sometimes by some nicely alert and polished playing. Decoration is kept to a modicum, very little in fact, but the plain notes, which have a kind of shy, inbuilt decoration, speak eloquently enough.

Born in Livorno, on the coast near Pisa, Pietro Nardini -- 'Tartini's most famous pupil' at Padua -- lived from 1722-1793, and thus spanned the period late Baroque to high classical, coinciding roughly with the Mannheim school in Germany and Haydn's early and middle years. From 1752-67 Nardini was a court violinist at the Württemburg royal court in Stuttgart. He later became Kapellmeister at the Ducal palace in Florence, and his playing was admired, in a two-edged way, by Mozart's father, Leopold: 'The beauty, purity and equality of his tone, and the tastefulness of his cantabile playing, cannot be surpassed; but he does not execute great difficulties!'

These Trio-Sonatas for twin flutes -- seemingly, Nardini's only works for the instrument -- are broadly dated to 1760-70. They do have a certain advanced sophistication, though the music, spanning late Baroque (as Formenti points out) and early Classical, sounds more like the 1750s or 60s than the later date.

I'm not entirely sure I would have begun this disc with Sonata No 6, a slightly pallid exercise compared to some of the others, and one in which Formenti, the group's Maestro di concerto, selects pacings I find short of the ideal: the first Allegro uneasily fast; the central Andante a bit slow and trudging. Gusberti's cello seems a little too prominent here, and not always natural and fluid.

But one forms a clear view of the fine flute playing, and of the admirable pairing of Formenti and second violin Giona Saporiti, who is on this evidence a first-rate support player. Nardini's canonic writing, especially at a pace, is terrific -- in places like a kind of energised stretto, beautifully executed.

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Copyright © 11 May 2008 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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