Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas: in d,
Deuxième recreation musicale,
Pasticcio Barocco (period instruments)
HÉRISSONS 001 (72: 00)
There is no doubt that one of the most
influential French violinists during that transition period between the Baroque and
styles was Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder (1697–1764). Not only was he acclaimed for his beautiful playing technique, he also was one of the supreme promoters of the
, the attempt to reconcile the French sentimental style with the Italian. His works were published in sets and included a gamut of pieces from sonatas to concertos, mainly for his instrument. As a result he achieved a reputation for a style of music that had wide audience appeal, and even today his published works have been recorded regularly.
This disc includes four of the six trio sonatas from his opus 4, published in 1731–32, as well as a trio sonata suite entitled
as opus 8 from four years later. The former were originally written for a pair of violins and continuo, more or less in a typical Baroque church sonata four-movement format, though the Third Sonata does have a rather anomalous Sarabande that has migrated into the mix. They all open with an often extensive slow movement, generally followed by some sort of contrapuntal
, with two additional movements along the same pattern. The second slow movements, however, are often floating lyrical episodes (entitled in two cases “Aria”), and the finales are generally quite dance-like and rapid, allowing for considerable virtuosity. The close harmonies seem tailor-made for violins, and in places such as the lovely ascending melody lines above a French dotted bass in the beginning of the second sonata, the interplay between the instruments seems genteel and comfortable. The slow and stately Sarabande interloper in the Third Sonata also benefits from the subtle textures of the violins, and a continuo that uses strings completes this softer sound world.
Be aware that Ensemble Barocco has chosen here to replace the strings with woodwinds. The nasal tonal quality of the two oboes makes the exchanges between the instruments far more forward in sound quality, and when a rather prominent bassoon is added as the principal continuo instrument, the harpsichord and double bass that are also present seem to recede into the background, almost becoming musical nonentities. That is not to say that this combination doesn’t work. For example, the very quirky fugue of the First Sonata, with its meandering harmony, benefits from the insistent tone of the oboes, whereas when performed on violins, as in the recording by London Baroque on Harmonia Mundi back in 1997, the textures seem to smooth out the imitative rough edges. The third movement of the Second Sonata, a dark Siciliano, also seems to be enhanced by the woodwinds, which make the mincing compound meter sound slightly mysterious and brings out the imitative patterns. It is less successful in the final fugal movement of the Third Sonata, where the leaping intervals seem to require more flexibility, at which violins excel. For the Suite, one finds the Forlane, with its insistent ornaments and decisive dotted rhythms, an excellent example of the French style, while the Tambourin bustles about most satisfactorily above its drone bass, sounding very much like one has been dropped into a rural French town celebration.
The performances by the ensemble are lively and adroit. The bassoon, which is often given long and sometimes repetitious introductory statements better performed on strings, can be a bit rough and grinding, but it is not by any means out of step with the entire ambience of the recording. I would not say that this is by any means a definitive reading of these works, for in my view performing it with strings tends to smooth out the rough edges. But there is danger in these renditions too, for there is a tendency to make the works a bit more bland, which of course this disc does not do. So, if you need an alternative (and perfectly acceptable) rendition, this disc will fulfill this nicely, though purists may have some qualms.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
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