musica Dei donum

CD reviews

[I] "Leclair & his Rivals"
Leila Schayegh, violin; Jörg Halubek, harpsichord
rec: Sept 27 - 29, 2011, Zurich, Radio studio SRF
Pan Classics - PC 10278 (© 2012) (66'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Jean-Baptiste CARDONNE (1730-1792): Sonata for keyboard and violin in e minor, op. 3,3 [5]; Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789): Troisème livre des pièces de clavecin (ouverture; chaconne; La de May) [4]; Jean-Pierre GUIGNON (1702-1774): Sonata for violin and bc in c minor, op. 1,9 [3]; Louis-Gabriel GUILLEMAIN (1705-1770): Sonata IV for violin and bc in A [1]; Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764): Sonata for violin and bc in G, op. 5,12 [2]

Sources: [1] Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, Premier livre de sonates, 1734; [2] Jean-Marie Leclair, Troisième livre de sonates, op. 5, 1734; [3] Jean-Pierre Guignon, XII Sonate à violino solo è basso, op. 1, 1737; [4] Jacques Duphly, Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1756; [5] Jean-Baptiste Cardonne, Premier livre de sonates pour clavecin avec l'accompagnement de violon obligé, op. 3, 1765

[II] Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697 - 1764): "Premier Livre de Sonates a Violon seul avec la basse continue"
Fabio Biondi, violin; Maurizio Naddeo, cello; Pascal Monteilhet, theorbo; Rinaldo Alessandrini, harpsichord
rec: Feb 27 - 29, 1992, Metz, Arsenal
Arcana - A 361 (R) (© 2011) (64'10")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata for violin and bc in B flat, op. 5,3; Sonata for violin and bc in F, op. 5,7; Sonata for violin and bc in G, op. 5,8; Sonata for violin and bc in B flat, op. 5,11

Premier livre de sonates, op. 1, 1723

Discs need a title. However, many titles don't quite cover the content of the disc. That is also the case with the recording by Leila Schayegh and Jörg Halubek. They perform music by Leclair and his rivals, but if you read the liner-notes you will discover that only one composer can be considered a true rival: Jean-Pierre Guignon.

He was born in Turin in Italy and his original name was Giovanni Pietro Guignone. Here lived the famous violin virtuoso Giovanni Battista Somis, who became his teacher. Somis also was the teacher of Leclair, and it is not impossible that the two have met there. Guignone settled in Paris in 1725, and took the name of Guignon. He played at the Concert Spirituel and was introduced to the royal court. He and Leclair were appointed as ordinaire de la musique du roy in 1733. Their cooperation was not unproblematic, and their rivalry culminated into a quarrel about the leadership of the royal orchestra. They agreed that they would alternate every month, but after one month Leclair resigned as he was not willing to step aside for Guignon.

The other composers on the programme can hardly be called Leclair's rivals. Louis-Gabriel Guillemain was another pupil of Somis and made a career as a violinist from an early age. In 1737 he was appointed ordinaire de la musique du roy, possibly as a successor to Leclair. He soon became the highest-paid musician at the court and made a journey to Italy in the late 1730s with Guignon. That in itself is no reason to call him Leclair's rival; I haven't been able to find any evidence that he had a bad relationship with Leclair, and the liner-notes don't indicate that either.

Two composers belong to a later generation than Leclair: Jacques Duphly and Jean-Baptiste Cardonne. The inclusion of music by these two is justified by the statement that there was another rivalry, the one between generations. That seems rather far-fetched, again because there seems to be no evidence that Leclair had a negative attitude towards the later trends in music. At the time Duphly and Cardonne flourished, Leclair had already withdrawn from public life.

Therefore let us forget the whole rivalry thing and concentrate on the stylistic development which is much more interesting. I have included here the reissue of a disc which originally was released in 1992, with Fabio Biondi playing sonatas from Leclair's first book. It seems likely that these were composed before his time in Italy. They show the influence of the Italian style which was quickly gaining ground in France, but technically they are modest and they also show strong French traces. The difference with the Sonata in G, op. 5,12 from the third book is striking. Here the Italian style dominates, and Leclair frequently makes use of double-stopping. The difference with the sonatas by Guignon and Guillemain is negligible: in all three sonatas the idiosyncracies of the violin are fully explored. In particular the fast movements are technically demanding whereas the slow movements show the kind of expression one expects in Italian music.

These three sonatas are for violin and basso continuo. The pieces by the composers of the next generation are quite different. Here the harpsichord plays the leading role: it has an extended and brilliant part, and composers don't avoid spectacular effects. In some harpsichord pieces a treble instrument could be added whose role was largely confined to playing colla parte with the right hand of the keyboard, adding some colour and creating the dynamic shading the harpsichord wasn't ably to produce. Often the participation of the treble instrument was ad libitum. The Pièces de clavecin by Jacques Duphly are a good example; in some recordings a violin participates, but there are also recordings where any addition of an instrument is omitted. In the first book of sonatas by Cardonne the violin has an obbligato part, but it mostly plays with the right hand of the harpsichord. Because of the brilliance of the upper voice the violin part can be quite demanding, as in the deuxième gavotte from the Sonata in e minor, op. 3,3.

Leila Schayegh and Jörg Halubek deliver brilliant interpretations of this compelling programme. They do full justice to the evocative and often exuberant character of the repertoire they have selected. Technically Ms Schayegh's playing is highly impressive, as she has shown in previous recordings. I have heard discs where I found Halubek's performances too restrained, but that is not the case here. The extroverted harpsichord parts in Duphly and Cardonne come off perfectly.

In comparison Fabio Biondi's playing is rather disappointing. I have never quite liked his playing which was always a bit different from that of his colleagues. He uses more vibrato, often plays legato and dynamic accents are largely absent. The Sonata in G, op. 5,8 shows the features I just mentioned. Add to that the slow tempo of the opening largo and the third movement, which is a musette. The particular effect of such a movement - which often appears in French music of the time - doesn't come off because of the very slow speed. Adrian Butterfield, in his complete recording of this book of sonatas, does a much better job here. The fast movements of the Sonata in B flat, op. 5,11 are especially disappointing because of the lack of differentiation and insufficiently marked rhythms. At the time this disc was first released very little of Leclair's output was available on disc. That is different today; the complete recording of the first book by Butterfield is a much better proposition than this selection of four sonatas. The recording doesn't make things better; the violin is playing right into your face, whereas the basso continuo is reduced to some noise in the background.

I strongly recommend to investigate the Schayegh/Halubek disc. As far as Leclair's first book is concerned: forget Biondi and spend a little more money on the Naxos discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Fabio Biondi
Leyla Schayegh

CD Reviews