I must confess that until I have had cause to listen to this set, I had only come across Jean-Marie Leclair in his flute concertos, which I had discovered when working in Prague in the 1970s. I found those works endlessly attractive and listened to them many times with great delight. It is true that I never sought to discover whether anything else he wrote had been recorded, so this set of violin concertos has come as a welcome surprise. I learned from the accompanying brochure written by Daria Gorban, one of the violinists here, that until Leclair wrote these twelve violin concertos, the violin took a back seat in France as far as chamber music was concerned, though it found favour in the orchestra.
What Leclair brought to the violin concerto was a freshness and virtuosity not previously heard, coupled with the elegance and refinement he had learned from Locatelli and Corelli, whom he quotes at the beginning of his Op.7 no.2 and at the end of the slow movement of his Op.7 no.5. Indeed, he was hailed as a French Corelli. About his violin sonatas, Sere de Rieux wrote: ‘Leclair is the first composer who, imitating nothing, has created something fine and new, something that is distinctively his own’ and this can equally be said of these violin concertos. They are original and the virtuosity required to play them was immediately recognised and admired by audiences. As Daria Gorban writes, the solo parts are full of ‘technical challenges: arpeggios, double and triple stops, bariolages, leaps and virtuoso figuration. At these points, Locatelli’s influence is manifest, especially in the first movements of Op.7 Nos.2,3 & 6 and Op.10 Nos.2&5’. She also points out how Leclair has the solo violin ‘more often placed in combat with the orchestra than as a colleague’, making for exciting musical jousts.
It was fascinating to read that for all that Leclair was held up in Mercure de France as ‘the most famous artist that France has had for purely instrumental music’, the consistency of his style which was key to his success, though advanced in 1723, had already become ‘old-fashioned in 1753’ - oh, the vagaries of taste!
Though living to the age of 67 was somewhat of an achievement in the 18th century, he might have lived considerably longer and produced more music of elegance and sophistication had it not been for the fact that having bought a house in a dangerous suburb of Paris. He was murdered outside it in October 1764, in all likelihood by his nephew with whom he had fallen out. What a sad end to such a distinguished life.
Every one of the twelve violin concertos is a rare delight and though showing the influence of Italian writing, Leclair was no mere clone of Vivaldi nor any others from that school, for he introduced many innovations of his own and put France back into contention as a source of excellence when it came to writing for the violin, albeit for the short time that his style was considered ground-breaking and in vogue.
This group of seven players which make up Violini Capricciosi plays with due deference to the composer and elegantly brings his music to life with playing that makes the most of the beautiful melodies which Leclair creates, leaving the listener impressed by his writing, which makes a welcome addition to those of us who adore Vivaldi, Corelli, Locatelli and the Italian school of violin writing of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Concerto Op.10 No.1 in B flat [13:53]
Concerto Op.10 No.2 in A [16:26]
Concerto Op.10 No.3 in D [16:28]
Concerto Op.10 No.4 in F [19:16]
Concerto Op.10 No.5 in E minor [17:15]
Concerto Op.10 No.6 in G minor [17:15]
Concerto Op.7 No.1 in D minor [12:40]
Concerto Op.7 No.2 in D [16:41]
Concerto Op.7 No.3 in C [16:04]
Concerto Op.7 No.4 in F [14:40]
Concerto Op.7 No.5 in A minor [15:46]
Concerto Op.7 No.6 in A [20:26]
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