Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Six sonatas for two violins, Op.3 (1730)
Gwen Hoebig & Karl Stobbe (violins)
rec. 2017, St. John’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada ANALEKTA AN28786 [66:32]
Many violinists will have practised or played these Sonatas by Leclair, the composer who is widely regarded as the founder of the French school of violin playing. They are not complex or adventurous works, but their outgoing charm and high spirits belie a certain degree of virtuosity; as Karl Stobbe comments in the accompanying notes ‘these are technically demanding works, requiring precision and delicacy’. That is what they receive here in clean and well-rounded performances by him and Gwen Hoebig.
As Leclair spent time in Italy, unsurprisingly these compositions reveal the musical styles of that country in the playful tussle of their melodies and the clear harmonic progressions of the music’s structure. All but one of the Sonatas comprise three movements, and often – particularly in the fast movements – they almost sound as though they could be a Vivaldi concerto in reduced form for easily manageable enjoyment in private. Some of the movements are French dances, however, and there is a generous sprinkling of ornaments and embellishments that are characteristic of the Baroque music of that country – executed by the violinists here with tasteful discretion. Leclair, then, seems intent on furthering the same project to unite different national styles as other composers in France before him had achieved, most notably François Couperin.
In using modern instruments Hoebig and Stobbe offer consistently solid interpretations, with some vibrato to add greater colour, but minimal rubato so that rhythms and momentum remain vigorous but not rushed. There may be room for greater variety in dynamics, but certainly moderate contrasts in volume are intelligently employed when the music demands it. Furthermore, the two violins are evenly balanced and each are attuned to giving way to the other as necessary in order for the musical material of greater import to come forward, even if that is just a bar’s worth, before giving way to the other violin.
Generally the even and poised articulation throughout this music is appealing. In some movements, though, just a touch more distinctive characterisation would have impressed upon the listener more deeply the inventiveness of Leclair’s writing. For instance the staccato of No. 4’s Gigue could have been tidier and spikier in order to contrast with the triplets which are slurred. The Aria of that Sonata might have been somewhat more lyrical to bring out the vocal parallel more, although the double-stopping admittedly makes that difficult. And the elegant breadth of No. 5’s Gavotte of No. 5 misses something of that dance’s earthier character.
But these are minor quibbles with an otherwise excellent release, where the music is engaging, even thrilling, when it needs to be, and exudes gracefulness and order elsewhere.
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