Saturday, 19 July 2014

Angels and Devils - La Serenissima in Buxton

Angels & Devils - music by Leclair, Vivaldi, Guillemain
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

18th Music for two violins exploring the differences in French and Italian playing

La Serenissima's afternoon concert at the Buxton Festival on Friday 18 July 2014 took place in the early 19th century St. John's Church, Buxton. Violinists Adrian Chandler and Cecilia Bernardini explored the development of 18th century violin music. Their programme focused on two virtuosi, the French Jean-Marie Leclair and the Italian Pietro Locatelli. Playing together at a concert in Kassel, Leclair was said to have played 'like an angel' with beautiful tone, whilst Locatelli played 'like a devil' with scratchy tone bu astonishing left hand pyrotechnics. Italian violin playing developed virtuosic elements earlier, whilst French violin playing remained wedded to dance music far longer, until the advent of Italian-trained violinsts like Leclair. Chandler and Bernardini's programme included two of Leclair's sonatas for two violins alongside two of Vivaldi's for the same forces, and a sonata by Leclair's countryman Guillemain.


Jean-Marie Leclair's (1697 - 1764) sonatas for two violins were probably written as teaching tools. Chandler and Bernardini started their recital with Sonata IV (op 3) in F. The opening movement was elegant, full of busy running figures. There were two balanced parts, rather then one primo and one secondo. The second movement was slower and graceful, and we could admire the lovely balanced sound from the two players. Each playing with fine grained, slim-line tone and fine technical poise. Finally a perky finale with a nice bounce to the rhythm.

After the sonata, Chandler introduced the programme and he said a few words before each subsequent item setting the scene and providing some fascinating information, such as that Leclair died being attacked on the way home from the opera whilst Guillemain committed suicide by stabbing himself 16 times.

The sonatas for two violins by Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) were probably written for a tour that he did in 1729 with his father (also a violinist). Vivaldi seems to have been uncertain whether a harpsichord would be available in all the venues so he wrote a series of sonatas for two violins, with optional basso continuo, just in case.

Chandler and Bernardini played Vivaldi's Sonata for two violins in B flat, RV77. It opened with a brisk movement, where we could hear the rather harder edge to Vivaldi's sound world as compared to Lelclair. There were, of course, some lovely virtuoso flourishes. The second movement was expressively elegant with some interesting changes of texture, rather than settling into a single texture. The finale was stylish and vigorous with the two players throwing melodic material between them.

There was obviously a great rapport between the two players, and they answered each other's phrases and seemed to be really enjoying themselves, which showed in their performances.

Louis Gabriel Guillemain (1705 - 1770) was a contemporary of Leclair, and one of the group of Italian trained French violinists responsible for transforming French violin playing. Chandler and Bernardini played his Sonata I for two violins in A minor. The opening movement was vigorous with stylish elegance with quite busy textures, with a softer edge and more grace than Vivaldi. The second, and final, movement was busy with running figures, full of charm and not a little wit.

Next came another Vivaldi sonata, in F major RV 68. The opening movement was full of bravura vigour, whilst in the second movement the two instruments swapped musical material, changing roles from primo to secondo and back. The movement was rather expressive and touching. The last movement returned back to vigorous chugging.

Finally another Leclair sonata. The first movement was quite a surprise, both instruments playing double stopping together, making a rather effective, quite measured texture. The second movement was rather perky, with lots of running figures. The third movement was wonderfully dark and sombre, leading to a jolly jig-ish finale with lots of double stopping as a drome accompaniment.

This was a fascinating recital, full of delights and surprises, plus some very fine violin playing indeed. I have to confess that I did not expect to find myself entranced by 18th century music for just two violins, but I was.
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