Trio Sonatas Nos 1-6
Johannes Pramsohler (violin); Ensemble Diderot
Audax ADX13724 75:15 mins
The music of the violinist-composer, dancer and lace-maker Jean-Marie Leclair is as colourful as his eclectic life and as dramatic as his death at the hands of an unknown murderer. Fêted for his violin sonatas and concertos, Leclair also penned one of the great collections of trio sonatas. His Op. 4 is a captivating fusion of the exquisite French Baroque idiom, with its languorous and lacy melodies, the exuberant Italian style and the rich textures of German counterpoint.
Ensemble Diderot brings out the nobility and grandeur of the music, highlighting what violinist-director Johannes Pramsohler describes as Leclair’s ‘classic elegance’. The ensemble’s sober reading of the D minor Sonata No. 1 underscores the work’s gravitas and the ‘brooding humours’ of the key. Quite different is the felicitous account of the F major Sonata – the shadow of Corelli infusing its gracious Largo; no wonder Leclair was nicknamed ‘Corelly de la France’.
The ensemble’s balance is finely judged in the numerous fugal movements – abstract and subtle pieces that are, in turn, offset by more pictorial evocations: the Third Sonata’s ‘Aria’, for instance, paints a pastoral landscape, complete with rustic dancing and chirruping birds. But if you think French Baroque music is all about frills, trills and pastel colours, the Diderots’ sinewy, full-toned sound, muscular rhythms and incisive articulation will make you think again. By contrast, London Baroque’s 1999 accounts of these works (on Harmonia Mundi) are invariably faster, lighter and more gallant in spirit. If forced to choose between them, I’d plump for the newer disc.