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Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Complete Sonatas for Two Violins
Six Sonatas for Two Violins, Op. 3
Six Sonatas for Two Violins, Op. 12
Greg Ewer; Adam LaMotte (violins)
rec. 11-14 June 2013, 17-20 July 2013, Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia, United States. DDD
BD-A disc contains op. 12 only
SONO LUMINUS DSL-92176 [2CDs: 53:24 + 70:27 & BD-A]

From the first notes of the first bar of this excellent two-CD set, you know you’re in good hands and are going to hear some splendid music-making. The genre could run the risk of sameness or, perhaps worse, might invite spurious gimmicks by the performers to ‘liven it up’. Not a bit of that here: the soloists bring a persuasive blend of verve and technical brilliance mixed with unselfconscious insight to two hours of focused, intense, yet sanguine music from the mid-eighteenth century.
 
It’s not only the variety of Leclair’s writing that will strike you but also the beauty and depth of the music - all of it. The majority of the twelve sonatas on these two CDs has three movements, for the most part broadly fast-slow-fast. Op. 3/6 and Op. 12/2, 3 and 6 have four movements. This arrangement derives from the French, rather than the Italian sonata da chiesa, style.


The contents of the both CDs are also to be found at higher resolution (FLAC) on the third, audio Blu-ray, disc. The first thing you are struck by when playing the Pure Audio Blu-Ray disc is the projection of this music. Given the concentration and focus that is so central to Leclair’s conception of the string sonata, this is a great advantage. This sense of an extra light in the playing, almost, consists not only in the perfect silences and the nearness to the business of playing (hair on gut), but - more importantly - the range from delicacy to force, tenderness to insistence, on movement, phrasing and contrast in texture.
 
Consequently, the music has great presence, clarity and depth. The CD sound is good - especially in picking up the warmth of the instruments (both originals from the 1730s). However the higher definition of the Blu-Ray disc unobtrusively offers a much enhanced immediacy. In an average disposition of speakers in an average living room, the result is as though the elbows of Ewer and Lamotte are liable to knock the listener over. Sono Luminus has here implemented the mShuttle <http://www.pureaudio-bluray.com/mshuttle/>, which allows you to access versions of the files across a home network.
 
Jean-Marie Leclair was one of six siblings, five of whom led musical lives. Jean-Marie is sometimes known as ‘the elder’ to distinguish him from another brother with the same first names. He was also murdered in his home, in Paris, probably by his nephew. Born and working in the early part of his life in Lyon, Leclair spent time in Turin where he absorbed the Italian influence that blends with the French style which prevails here.
 
In practice that means an amalgam of faster, rhythmic, bowing with more legato and generally more reflective tempi. Leclair as a player was instrumental in pushing the limits of what performers could and did tackle in terms of multiple stopping. Indeed there is much double-stopping in these pieces; this can give the impression of more than two violinists but then neither violin line predominates.
 
Ewer and Lamotte play as if meticulously crafting the music themselves as it happens — as it emerges from Leclair’s vibrant imagination. They play with exactly the right idiom. Yet they make the music very much their own and achieve a delightful balance. Their careful spontaneity emphasises movement without losing either detail or clarity.
 
Even more remarkably, perhaps, is the unity between the two violinists. It’s not that they’re trying consciously to give the impression of a wider or richer texture than that which Leclair wrote even though his voicing often gives the impression of a bass line that isn’t really there. Rather, their understanding of Leclair’s aims in texture simply conveys transparently what the composer must have wished. On top of all this, the two players bring imagination and insight which adds to the depth of their interpretative strengths. They make Leclair, in short, rather special.
 
The acoustic, that of the Sono Luminus Studios, is close, clean and unassuming. It nicely supports the clarity of tone and articulation which characterise the playing on this CD. The booklet contains an introduction to the life and works of Leclair set in the context of eighteenth century France (and Italy). We also get photographs of the two soloists in action - with brief biographies - and a track-listing.
 
If you’re new to Leclair and/or if you enjoy this repertoire, there may be more originality, spike and sheer beauty in the music than you had imagined. It’s played in a way that invites you in, quietly and unostentatiously. Yet, once you’re ‘hooked’, Ewer and Lamotte expose its subtleties and strengths in ways that make you want to listen all over again. Quite something.
 
Mark Sealey

Work details
Op. 3
Sonata 1 in G Major [7:41]
Sonata 2 in A Major [7:17]
Sonata 3 in C Major [11:16]
Sonata 4 in F Major [10:04]
Sonata 5 in E minor [7:33]
Sonata 6 in D Major [9:43]

Op. 12
Sonata 1 in B minor [9:20]
Sonata 2 in E Major [15:11]
Sonata 3 in D Major [10:21]
Sonata 4 in A Major [13:17]
Sonata 5 in G minor [10:17]
Sonata 6 in B Flat Major [12:13]