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‘It’s a genuine disgrace that members of the baroque fraternity adopt any number of trifling figures with whoops of excitement, while the output of this great violinist still remains to be rediscovered time and again.’ Nearly a decade has elapsed since Reinhard Goebel lamented our neglect of Leclair in his CD-notes for Harmonie Universelle’s 2006 recording of the op.3 sonatas for two violins, yet even last year’s 250th anniversary of Leclair’s death – a brutal, unsolved murder – failed to spark a major revival of interest, though it presumably played a part in the release of these CDs.

Leclair was not only one of the 18th century’s greatest violinists – he reportedly ‘played like an angel’ – he was also an innovative composer. According to one writer, his many sonatas and concertos ‘virtually created the French school of violin playing’; while his music also realised François Couperin’s ideal of the réunion des goûts, its seamless integration of Italian virtuosity and French elegance no doubt helped by the six years Leclair spent in Turin. His two sets of sonatas for two unaccompanied violins, op.3 and op.12, were published in 1730 and 1747 respectively. The earlier set, easier to play and simpler in structure, probably had a pedagogical purpose, yet makes attractive listening; the later sonatas, ‘notably more complicated and freer,’ says Goebel, can sound utterly entrancing.

Such is the case in the hands of Florian Deuter and Mónica Waisman, aka Harmonie Universelle, whose new disc of the op.12 sonatas reaffirms the genial mastery shown on their earlier recording of the op.3 set for Eloquentia. Veterans of the European early music circuit, they sound absolutely at ease with Leclair’s music, dancing nimbly through the quicker movements, teasing out the slower with a beguiling tenderness, as in the fourth sonata’s haunting Largo.

The American duo of Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte, both members of the Portland Baroque Orchestra, are accomplished performers, yet their interpretations lack the sense of familiarity with Leclair’s language, the subtleties of execution, that characterise Harmonie Universelle’s versions. Their playing can seem linear, where Deuter and Waisman cavort and flow, or be a touch hard-edged and overemphatic, where Deuter and Waisman are relaxed, even playful. The latter pair convey a real sense of enjoyment, making light of the formidable technical challenges as they explore the many pleasures to be found in Leclair’s lovely, endlessly inventive music.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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