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Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Violin Concertos 
Concerto Op. 7 no. 6 in A major [19.31]
Concerto Op. 7 no. 2 in D major [17.00]
Concerto Op. 10 no. 2 in A major [15.02]
Concerto Op. 10 no. 6 in G minor [ 17.31]
La Cetra Barockorchester Basel/Leila Schayegh (violin)
rec. 2018, Basel, Switzerland
GLOSSA GCD924202 [68:23]

Leclair was a virtuoso violinist and a highly respected and original composer, the so-called ‘founder of the French violin school’, whose sad demise by being murdered has lent his memory a certain notoriety – and as yet, the culprit has not been discovered!

But if one wants to understand his musical aims and style one need go no further, initially, than to read the title of his publications which liberally mixes French with Italian: ‘VI Concerto a tré violini, alto e basso per organo e violincello, composés par M. Le Clair l’Ainé.’

The concertos recorded here are from Leclair’s Op. 7 and Op. 10, rare works in many ways although Fabio Biondi has recorded the Opus 7 with Europe Galante and there are at least five other recordings of various concerti, but I am sorry to say that I have not heard any of them.

Op. 7 no. 2 is especially telling, as it not only has a very Italianate feeling throughout, but is preceded by a unique slow introduction, its middle movement is very-Vivaldian, as is, without doubt, the third, and there are two free-wheeling cadenzas which are very un-French. In contrast, Op 7 no. 10 has a French Gigue as a finale and the middle movement, entitled ‘Aria’, is in two-parts throughout but entrusted to the solo violin - an extremely virtuoso work.

Soloist and director Leila Schayegh divides her useful and fascinating notes into six sections: the ‘Violin Concertos’, ‘Lacemaker, Dance and Violinist,’ ‘From Paris to Amsterdam’ … ‘and back’, ‘The Concerti,’ and ‘About the recording’. She comments that the charming Concerto Op. 10 no. 2 has the character of the ‘Commedia dell’arte’; by that, she seems to mean by that parts of it suddenly move into a nostalgic, minor tonality and even alter tempo in a witty and startling manner. I must say that these passages have a strange appeal.

Lastly, Op. 10 no. 6 starts almost like C.P.E Bach (although I realise that that is muddying the waters) but then Vivaldi is evoked especially in the regular use of sequences and in the outer movements which are serious of purpose, but the middle one is gloriously elegant in a Handelian sense.

The aforementioned essay goes into some detail about the pitch chosen for the recording which Schayegh marries to French baroque pitch - i.e. HZ 408 - and gives various technical reasons for this. Using, as they are, gut bow-strings enables what one might call a slightly more profound sound quality for the soloist to sing over.

It seems that La Cetra Barockorchester are to record all twelve of Leclair’s concerti. It consists of Eva Saladin as concertmaster and as the solo Second Violin Sonok Asabuki, who is a significant player in the Op. 7 no. 2 with four other violins, two violas, two celli a violone and Johannes Keller as the reliable harpsichord continuo. Leila Schayegh plays a beautifully sunny Guarneri made in Cremona in 1675.

I cannot criticise any aspect of these performances; indeed, they will give much pleasure. I think we can look forward with confidence to future volumes from these players and this always enterprising record company.

Gary Higginson

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