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Leclair And The Violin

Portrait of Jean-Marie Leclair by Gravure de F. Lugi d'après Loir, 1741

Opus 2 Violin Sonatas

Several years ago, violinist Adrian Butterfield recorded all of Jean-Marie Leclair’s opus 1 violin sonatas, and in this 2013 Naxos release, Butterfield has moved on to explore the composer’s second set of violin sonatas. Five of the violin sonatas in the Leclair's op. 2 also double as sonatas for flute, leading some violinists to argue that the hybridization of these works waters them down. Perhaps in terms of technique that’s the five sonatas also playable on flute, Leclair leaves out special violin tricks like bariolage and chordal playing which are simply not possible on a wind instrument. However, in terms of melody and charm, the op. 2 pieces are rife with musical imagination. What Leclair sacrifices in violinistic fireworks, he makes up for with interesting melody and unexpected harmonic surprises. And, thanks to Adrian Butterfield, and his continuo team Jonathan Manson and Laurence Cummings, we’ll now have a complete recorded set of this music!

If you’re wondering why Leclair might have included the flute designation at all in his publication, it may have had something to do with marketing. It’s possible that Leclair, who was still rather new to the publishing scene, wanted to ensure the widest possible audience for his music by offering works with broad appeal. In the op. 2 sonatas, there’s something for everyone: if some of the music seems too moderate or even a little naïve, Leclair nonetheless includes pieces that would have challenged any good violinist of the day. The final movement from the F major sonata no. 2 is evidence that Leclair, brought up in the family business of lace-making, in addition to his career as an accomplished dancing master, was also a darn good violinist to boot!

Opus 7 Violin Concertos

The op. 7 concertos are a crowning achievement in Leclair’s career—in these compositions, he upped the ante of violinistic virtuosity even further—perhaps in competition (friendly or not!) with his colleagues Locatelli and Guingon. Unlike the five alternate flute sonatas in op. 2 from a decade earlier, only one of the concertos in op. 7 bears any indication for an alternate instrument—in this case, oboe or flute. In this opus, it seems that Leclair largely traded up his concerns with moderation and broad appeal for specialization and expertise.

A 2012 Ramée release features these Leclair op. 7 violin concertos.  The performers include violinist Luis Otavio Santos and the ensemble Les Muffatti

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