Wednesday 27 July 2022

French-style elegance, Italian lyricism and virtuosity: Adrian Butterfield in Leclair's violin sonatas

Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin Sonatas, Opus 5, Nos. 9-12; Adrian Butterfield, Sarah McMahon, Silas Wollson, Clare Salaman; NAXOS

Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin Sonatas, Opus 5, Nos. 9-12; Adrian Butterfield, Sarah McMahon, Silas Wollston, Clare Salaman; NAXOS
Reviewed 26 July 2022 (★★★★)

Combining both French and Italian sensibilities, the sonatas by French violinist Leclair prove wonderfully civilised yet engaging in these enjoyable performances

As a violinist Jean-Marie Leclair is considered to have founded the French violin school and his surviving publications are an important testament both to his skill as a violinist but also to his talents as a composer. Violinist Adrian Butterfield has been recording Jean-Marie Leclair's Violin Sonatas, Opus 5 for Naxos and his fourth volume features the sonatas nos. 9 to 12 performed with Sarah McMahon, cello, and Silas Wollston, harpsichord, plus the late Clare Salaman, hurdy-gurdy.

Leclair trained in Italy both as a violinist and as a dancer, and when he returned to Paris in 1723 his reputation as a violinist was made by his performances with the Concerts Spirituels. His first two books of sonatas were published in 1723 and 1728, with the third book (those on this disc) in 1734. In 1733 he had been appointed Director of the Music of the Chapel and Apartments by King Louis XV, so Leclair's third book of sonatas was dedicated to the king. A dispute, however, led to Leclair's resignation and he went to work for the Princess of Orange (who as Princess Anne, had been Handel's pupil in London).

Leclair's style mixes French-style elegance with Italian lyricism and virtuosity. All the sonatas on the disc have four movements, roughly slow, fast, slow, fast, with the final movement of each being a dance-movement (minuet, tambourin, giga and ciaccona). It is with the final movement of sonata no. 10 that Clare Salaman's hurdy-gurdy comes in, to delightful effect, and in the final movements Leclair introduces another innovation, variation form; something that was to become common as the 18th-century progressed.

Adrian Butterfield, in his booklet note, describes how the technical writing in these sonatas is more challenging than in the earlier ones, with several movements using continuous double stopping to striking effect. And there is plenty of busy writing, complex figurations and more virtuoso elements. 

The music is not particularly adventurous harmonically, it is Leclair's combination of technique and style that engages in these pieces. Butterfield is technically superb, he dazzles in the more bravura elements but never for its own sake, there is always a fine musicality. The opening of sonata no. 9 is a prime example of how elegant a sense of line Butterfield can create when the music calls for it. And in the opening of no. 10 he performs the continuous double stopping in a way that certainly does impress, the line is still there yet you realise there is more than one note happening.

There is plenty of character too, where needed, so the giga that ends sonata no. 11 is a complete delight and for once in this sort of instrumental piece, you really do feel like dancing. Perhaps we are hearing Leclair's dance training coming out, dance movements that can be danced to.

The set ends with the ciaccona, the final movement of sonata no. 12, and this is seriously grand yet full of imaginative variations with the violin, at times, providing its own drone instead of drafting in the hurdy-gurdy.

Butterfield is finely partnered by Sarah McMahon and Silas Wollston, and Leclair's writing in the sonatas does quite propel them towards the piano trio as the cello parts are often quite lively and independent, so that there are movements where McMahon and Butterfield seem to be indulging in a dialogue.

There is something wonderfully civilised yet engaging about this music, along with a nice sense of imagination. Butterfield, McMahon and Wollston play it with a lovely feeling of enjoyment and engagement, this is a lot more than polite background music, nor are they simply showy sonatas by violin virtuoso. And having listened to this disc, you may well feel inclined to explore the three previous volumes in the set, and to hope that Butterfield continues to explore the composer's music

Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) - Violin Sonatas, book 3, Opus 5 Nos 9-12 (1734)
Adrian Butterfield (violin)
Sarah McMahon (cello)
Silas Wollston (harpsichord)
Clare Salaman (hurdy-gurdy)
Recorded 12-13 March 2021 at St John's Church, Loughton, Essex
NAXOS 8.574381 1CD [64.15]

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Prom 14: Flavours of late romanticism, Yamada and the CBSO in Rachmaninov and Ethel Smyth - concert review
  • Sit back and enjoy: London Early Opera's engagingly virtuosic performance of Handel's pasticcio, Caio Fabbricio - record review
  • More than just sisterhood: Mark Adamo's Little Women finally gets its UK premiere in Ella Marchment's imaginative production at Opera Holland Park - opera review
  • From Bayreuth to Grimeborn: having assisted at Bayreuth Festival's new Ring Cycle, Peter Selwyn moves on to conduct the concluding parts of the Grimeborn Festival's ambitious Ring Cycle - interview
  • Operatic rarities in a striking double bill: Delius' Margot la Rouge and Puccini's Le Villi at Opera Holland Park - opera review
  • The Dragon of Wantleya fine Handelian cast have terrific fun with Lampe's parody of opera seria - CD review
  • Purcell writ large: a lavish Dido and Aeneas at the BBC Proms - opera review
  • Our Future in Your HandsKate Whitley's new oratorio for Buxton used a chorus of children from local schools and students from the RNCM to terrific effect - concert review
  • Baroque gem: Hasse's early serenata Antonio e Cleopatra gets an intriguing modern staging in Buxton with some stylish singing - opera review
  • Not a kilt in sight: Jacopo Spirei's fascinating production of Rossini's La donna de lago at Buxton - opera review
  • Rediscovered rarities, new opera and young artists: I chat to Rosetta Cucchi, artistic director of Wexford Festival Opera - interview
  • Farewell Comrade: Music written in the shadow of death, Theresienstadt 1941-1945 at Temple Music - concert review
  • ome

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month