The oval portrait on the front of Tactus' CD Sophia Giustina Corri: Works for Solo Harp is not a vintage image used to illustrate a woman composer from a distant time whose portrait typically we would not have; this is, in fact, a picture of Sophia Giustina Corri. She is facing right, and originally this portrait would have matched one of her husband, pianist and composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, that faced left in her direction, but alas, that has been lost. Corri was, in the late eighteenth-century, musical royalty; born in Scotland, her father was a famous violinist who played in the Bach/Abel concerts in the Hanover Square drawing rooms and at open air events at Vauxhall Gardens. Like Wolfgang Mozart, who was nearly two decades older than Corri, she was the most talented member of a musical family that appeared together in concerts. Corri married Dussek in 1792 and remained his wife until Dussek's death in 1812; by most accounts it was an extremely unhappy union, with Corri periodically trying to escape from Dussek's household but being unable to do so. When he died, she promptly remarried and with her new husband, a violist, established a music school and went into publishing.
Chances are the listener has never heard of Corri before encountering this Tactus disc, featuring harper Floraleda Sacchi. Although Corri's Opus 1 consisted of keyboard sonatas, all of her other music is scored for harp or harp with piano accompaniment. Just because the name above the title is however unfamiliar doesn't necessarily mean these works have not appeared on disc before; some of the sonatas have, but under the name of her husband, Jan Ladislav Dussek. That this is so is not owing to his having usurped her mantle as composer so much as eighteenth-century publishers circulated her works simply as "Dussek," hoping that this vague attribution would lead customers on to the music, as her husband was far better known than she was. As far can be adjudged, this disc marks the first time Corri's music has been issued on disc unambiguously under her own name, and Sacchi makes the most of the occasion, playing an Érard Harp made in 1816 and performing the music with sensitivity and a fine sense of classical balance. There are a couple of instances where one might wonder if the tempo suits the designations Corri suggests; certainly in La Chasse (The Hunt) a somewhat faster pace than that taken seems appropriate, but given that this is a historic instrument with its own special limitations and challenges then most matters of tempo are moot. These pieces are exquisitely beautiful and rendered in the best late-classical manner; Corri's husband was one of the standard bearers of early romantic style and Corri's highly original style of composition demonstrates that she was not allergic to innovation. Occasionally Corri points up some detail by employing a striking dissonance -- such as in the Sonata Op. 2/2 in G major -- or hearkens back to her Scottish roots, as in the "Lochaber" of the E flat major Sonata or the "Caledonian Hunt" of the C major work.
Whether one's interest is in the harp or in women composers, Tactus' Sophia Giustina Corri: Works for Solo Harp is one to be cherished; the music is tuneful, attractive, and full of feminine guile. Sacchi's playing is warm and intuitive; most appropriate, as Corri's music is never predictable and -- moreover -- doesn't sound at all like the music of her husband, who did write a harp work or two; just not Corri's.