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Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697 - 1764)
Violin Concertos Op. 7
Concerto V in a minor, op. 7,5 [14:53]
Concerto II in D, op. 7,2 [15:46]
Concerto IV in F, op. 7,4 [13:55]
Concerto I in d minor, op. 7,1 [12:32]
Concerto VI in A, op. 7,6 [20:29]
Luis Otavio Santos (violin)
Les Muffatti/Peter Van Heyghen
rec. September 2010, Augustinus Muziekcentrum, Antwerp, Belgium. DDD
RAMÉE RAM 1202 [77:38]

We may not instantly associate the solo concerto with French baroque music. It came into existence in Italy around 1700 and was then developed by Vivaldi. His concertos set the standard which was soon to be followed by composers across Europe. They also went down well with audiences. In the 1720s even the French fell for them, after years of resistance to anything Italian. Vivaldi's concertos, and especially his Four Seasons, were regularly performed at the Concert Spirituel, the main institution of public concerts in Paris. There Jean-Marie Leclair also frequently appeared to play his sonatas. His various collections show an increase of Italian influence.
Leclair had started his career as a dancer. In 1722 he acted in this capacity in Turin. This was a turning point in his life. He met the then famous violinist Giovanni Battista Somis who may have stimulated Leclair into develop his skills as a violinist. He did so with great success and soon was celebrated as one of the greatest violinists of his time. His fame spread across Europe and he played, for instance, in Germany and the Netherlands. He lived for some years in The Hague, where he was in close contact to the court of the House of Orange. Here he may also have renewed his friendship with his Italian colleague Pietro Antonio Locatelli who at the time lived in Amsterdam. The strong Italian flavour in Leclair's violin concertos may well be due to Locatelli's influence. Some of the solos in the concertos op. 7 show some similarity with the capriccios which Locatelli included in his violin concertos op. 3, L'arte del violino.
In order to become a better composer Leclair took lessons from André Chéron, a harpsichordist who regularly accompanied him at the Concert Spirituel. In the dedication of his op. 7, published in 1737, Leclair specifically mentioned Chéron saying that "if any beauty may be found in this work, I credit it to the expert lessons I received from you". These "expert lessons" included harmony and counterpoint. The result was that Leclair wasn't only celebrated as a virtuoso violinist but also ranked among the best composers of his time.
The concertos are all in three movements, with the exception of the Concerto II which begins with a short adagio. It is not a fully developed movement, though, and the violin has no solo part. The following allegro ma non troppo is full of double-stopping. Here we find a solo episode without participation from the other instruments, and this is close to Locatelli's capriccios. The closing allegro includes various dialogue passages: the short statements of the solo violin are answered by statements from the tutti violins.
The disc opens with the Concerto V which is probably the best-known of the set. Its central movement, with the indication largo - adagio, is a piece of great expression. It is in such movements that the French style comes to the fore. The closing allegro assai is theatrical in character. One of the most brilliant solo parts is in the opening movement from the Concerto IV, and another is the closing vivace from the Concerto I, where Locatelli once again makes his presence felt.
The latter concerto and Concerto VI both have a middle movement with the indication 'aria gratioso'. These are superb examples of Leclair's ability to compose in an expressive style. The latter's middle movement opens with the solo violin playing double- and triple- stopping which is one of the features of this movement. The other 'aria gratioso' (Concerto I) also begins with an episode for violin solo.
This disc bears witness to Leclair's greatness as a composer of instrumental music. This eminence was well recognized in his time, as the German theorist Marpurg compared him with the likes of Telemann, Handel and members of the Bach family. Some years after his death he was called "the Corelli of France". That is not hard to understand, even for a modern audience.
The qualities of Leclair are convincingly conveyed in these performances. The Brazilian-born Luis Otavio Santos, also leader of the baroque orchestra La Petite Bande, is a brilliant player who meets all the technical requirements with impressive ease. He never indulges in the virtuosity of Leclair's solo parts for its own sake. He fully explores the expressive qualities of these concertos, and is equally at home in the more lyrical movements, such as the largo-adagio from Concerto V. The orchestra gives excellent support, producing a warm and full sound, and displaying great agility in the fast movements.
Let us enjoy this fine disc and hope that these performers will have the opportunity to record the remaining concertos in the near future.
Johan van Veen