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Joseph BOULOGNE (c.1745 – 1799) also known as the Chevalier de SAINT-GEORGES
Violin Concertos 2

Concerto in D major Op. posth. No.2
Concerto No.10 in G major
Concerto in D major Op.3 No.1
Qian Zhou (violin)
Toronto Camerata/Kevin Mallon
Recorded in Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, April 2003
NAXOS 8.557322 [65.30]


The eighteenth century was hardly short of swashbucklers but Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George, virtuoso fiddler, composer, swordsman, and son of a French planter and a Senegalese slave, was not low down on the list of notables of his age. His picaresque journeyings are novelistic in their breadth – Revolution fleeing, association with the Duc d’Orleans, exhibition fencing in London and Brighton, captain of the National Guard – and even Rousseau would have had a hard time prophesying Boulogne’s fusion of the musical with the military.

Nevertheless amidst the carnage of late eighteenth century France, and beyond its borders, Boulogne still found time to compose for his own instrument. The first volume of Naxos’ series [not reviewed] has given a foretaste of his abilities as a composer and the second gives us three more concertos. Naxos’ booklet writer pitches them high and they are certainly idiomatically written and requiring of some pretty adept technique, not least in the higher positions, in which Boulogne was clearly an adept practitioner. He was clearly no slouch either when it came to brisk string crossing because the scores bristle with these and suchlike demands. He strikes the most impressive note however in slow movements; in the scena-like Adagio of the D major (Op posthumous), say, which is adroitly and unceasingly lyric in impulse and in the dainty and pliant Rondo finales of which he proves a mini-master in these works. That of the posthumously published D major is especially winning and the modified sonata form Presto finale of the G major sparkles with Mozartian brio. A weakness lies in the occasionally rather generic Allegro first movements – always laid out with skill but seldom with inspiration (though I’d make an exception for the inventive G major with its fine cadenza).

The Toronto Camerata under its energetic Irish conductor Kevin Mallon is doing some fine work for Naxos. Soloist Qian Zhou plays with a degree of dash but she sounds taxed by some of Boulogne’s demands – she’s splendid high up the fingerboard but her string crossing isn’t quite there and her intonation is sometimes suspect. It sounds to me as if she is slightly too near the microphones as well – we can hear her changes of bow and this accentuates a certain metallic astringency in her tone. It doesn’t seriously affect recommendation because Zhou sounds fully committed to the repertoire. I suppose the constituency for the disc is Violin School of Mozart but the dramatic Boulogne will certainly appeal to more broad-minded violin fanciers and to those interested in later eighteenth century Parisian composition as well.

Jonathan Woolf

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