, January 2008
Jean-Marie Leclair is probably best known as a prominent figure in the French style of violin playing. He developed standard violin technique through the use of an early form of vibrato, double trills and catalogued articulations. The majority of his compositional output was for the violin, but eight of his 48 violin sonatas were written with performance on the flute as an alternate.
The music, as played here, is fresh and imaginative, with the pre-requisite grandeur as necessary, contrasting the frivolous and technical fast movements and expressive adagios. Fenwick Smith plays with a wonderful sense of clarity and interpretative style; the music is played as though he truly loves it, and that comes across in the warm tone and emotive timbre of his sound. Formerly a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Smith is a true master of the flute; this recording contains some of the finest playing I have heard. The other ensemble members accompany with panache, never dominating but always expressive and stylish.
Sometimes, the simplest of lines betray the true nature of the musicians who perform them. This can certainly be said of the Gavotte of the C major Sonata [CD 1, track 3]. I was completely transfixed by the colour and shape of the line. Other highlights for me include the flawless technical control over the leaping variations of the finale of the E minor sonata [CD 1, track 8]
Also notable on this disc is the inclusion of the Deuxième Récréation de Musique d’une Execution Facile [CD 2]. Here, Smith is ably joined by fellow flute player Christopher Krueger. The blend between the two players is remarkable and the ensemble is excellent. Here, also the continuo comes into its own with fugal lines with the solo parts above. I particularly enjoyed the lilting style of the Forlane [tr. 17] and the brief but charming Badinage [tr. 20].
Leclair is one of many baroque composers to write for the flute, at a time when the instrument was said to have had its ‘golden age’. His sonatas have a sparkle which sets them apart from his contemporaries; while it lacks the seriousness and emotional depth of Bach, there is a definite and pervasive sense of personality throughout. An image of him on the CD sleeve shows a smiling man with captivating eyes; his music seems to match this image. There is contrast between the works too; I initially suspected that a double CD of works for the same instrument by the same composer would prove too much to listen to in one sitting, but I was wrong. Much of the material here is captivating on the first hearing and becomes all the more enthralling with familiarity. This is partly due to the quality of the performance, but also the range of emotion and style encapsulated within the four movements of each sonata.
Everything about this recording is of an extremely high standard. It is a testament to Naxos that playing of this quality is available at such a reasonable price. Unmissable.