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Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, January 2012

LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 1-4 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570888
LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 5-8 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570889
LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 9-12 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570890

French baroque composer Jean-Marie LeClair can be played courtly and refined like his contemporary countrymen Rameau, Charpentier, and Couperin; or he can be played with a bit of rustic, rural flavor. Butterfieid, McGillivray, and Cummings, all well known and highly accomplished period musicians…split the difference. Their LeClair is lively, tangy, and occasionally quite poignantly troubadour-like. Butterfield’s violin is the dominant voice here, of course, and his sound has a marvelous balance of beauty and chutzpa, smoothness and piquancy. His mastery of the difficult baroque instrument, his purity of tone even when he is pushed by LeClair to the edge, is a thing to behold and truly captivating.

One of the best things about Naxos, especially over the last decade as they’ve gotten their feet on the ground in the classical music recording industry, is how nimble (and generous) they seem compared with the competition. © 2012 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Lucy Robinson
Early Music, July 2010

LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 1-4 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570888
LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 5-8 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570889
LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 9-12 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570890

Equally welcome are the three separate discs of Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin sonatas book 1 (Naxos 8.570888/9/90, rec 2008, 64′, 55′, 58′) performed by Adrian Butterfield (Baroque violin), Alison McGillivray (viola da gamba) and Laurence Cummings (harpsichord). Leclair (1697–1764), who played such a vital role in the development of the French violin school, has been underrated and under-recorded; his music certainly does have the depth and variety to merit three CDs. During his lifetime he was hailed as the ‘Corelli of France’ (Blainville), and in 1728 Leclair’s popularity was such that he played his own sonatas and concertos ten times at the Concert Spirituel. Ferrand recalled him as ‘a veritable artist, passionate about the violin…with a soul as pure and candid as that of Corelli, incapable of jealousy, and delighted by the talent of his rivals’. At last players have easy access to the twelve works of his Premier livre de sonates (c.1723), a quarter of his published violin sonatas, at a budget price. Leclair was particularly renowned for his innovative chordal writing: ‘the first Frenchman, who, in imitation of the Italians, plays double stopping…And he has made such strides in this technique that the Italians themselves avow he is one of the leaders in this genre.’ Op.1, no.12 is full of challenging double stopping, not least in the two fast movements both marked Allegro ma non troppo. Describing Leclair’s playing, Ancelet writes: ‘everyone is in agreement that he is an exact, precise and rigid observer of the rules…His extraordinary precision might be seen to dampen the vivacity and fire of his imagination, but his disciplined nature pervades all his playing: and if one can reproach him for this defect, how much is one not compensated by his understanding and the cleanness of his playing.’ These fine qualities are inherent in Butterfield’s performance; sometimes, and not least in op.1, no.12, like Ancelet, I miss characterization, fire and daring. There is beautiful viol playing too, in the Musette of op.1, no.8 for example, but generally the balance favours the violin; if one remembers that Jean-Baptiste Forqueray was a close colleague of Leclair, I think a stronger bass line shaping Leclair’s rich harmony is called for. The performance of op.1, no.8 is particularly successful, with a relaxed and pleasing opening Largo, a fiery Vivace with good rhythmic grip, the haunting Musette and the elegant extended Tempo gavotta with its Altro in the tonic minor.

Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, May 2010

LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 1-4 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570888

LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 5-8 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570889

LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 9-12 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570890

Adrian Butterfield has grasped the character of Leclair’s sonatas very well. He plays them with panache and shows a good feeling for the various features of these compositions. In general the articulation and the dynamic shading are satisfying, and much attention has been paid to the rhythmic pulse. Many movements really come off like dance music. This is also due to the excellent support of Alison McGillivray and Laurence Cummings…this set…testifies to Leclair’s greatness as a composer and as a performer. In particular lovers of music for violin will enjoy these three discs.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, November 2009

LECLAIR Violin Sonatas Book 1, Nos.1–4 8.570888

LECLAIR Violin Sonatas Book 1, Nos. 5–8 8.570889

Leclair’s Op. 1 Sonatas were such a success when they were published in 1723 that the volume quickly had to be reprinted. He apparently studied the violin in Turin and rapidly became renowned for his technical expertise; these sonatas do place considerable demands on the performers, but they never indulge in virtuoso showing off for its own sake. All those on these two CDs follow the Corellian sonata da chiesa, four-movement type, apart from No.5, which is in three movements, and No.4 with its extra minuetto. The influence of Corelli is apparent but there is a considerable element of French elegance here, too, with emphasis on a cantabile, or singing line.

Some time ago I reviewed a Naxos 2-CD recording of Leclair’s Flute Sonatas [8.557440–41] which included alternative versions of two of the Opus 1 Sonatas now under consideration in their Violin Sonata guise. I found the music charming but a little too much of a sameness to enjoy other than in small doses. My colleague Carla Rees was much more taken with that set, making it Recording of the Month and deeming it unmissable.

The first work on the first of the new CDs, Op.1/2, also opens the earlier flute recording. The tempi on the new recording are faster than before, especially in the Gavotta third movement. I preferred the sound of the violin in this work—after all, Leclair is best known for his contribution to the development of the violin repertoire—but I also felt that the music benefited from being taken at a rather livelier pace.

I noted in my earlier review that the flute version of this sonata is taken slowly; though it never sounds too slow, I did find myself preferring the new version. Leclair cautioned players against playing his music too quickly, but even in the Gavotta the tempo adopted by Butterfield and partners is as grazioso as the marking indicates that it should be. The finale, too, marked Giga: Allegro, goes with a swing, but the speed is never excessive.

A degree of re-writing was necessary to fit Op.1/2 to the flute’s register; this, too, may partly explain my preference for the original violin format. I would never have described myself as sharing Mozart’s reputed dislike of the flute—a dislike which I find incredible when he wrote such beautiful music for the instrument, especially the Concerto for Flute and Harp—so I don’t think there’s some irrational and unconscious dislike of the instrument at play here.

The performances of the other three sonatas on the first of the new CDs are of the same high quality. I played the whole disc without any criticisms but with great enjoyment. Perhaps I was too dismissive in describing the chamber music with flute as superior background music. I certainly rate the new recording much higher than that.

Op.1/6, on the second CD, also features on the earlier flute recording. Whereas Op.1/2 had to be partially rewritten to fit the flute’s register, this sonata needed no rewriting, so direct comparison is possible. Once again, whether as a result of my preferring the violin in this music, or because the playing is more convincing, I enjoyed the work very much more than on that earlier occasion. If anything, the second CD sounds even more delightful than the first. If you buy only one of these CDs, make it the second—but then you’ll want the first, too.

In my earlier review I mentioned my preference for the viola da gamba in this music; apart from one work, the earlier recording employs the cello instead. Perhaps that, too, is a reason for my preferring the new CDs. Sonatas of this type can work well with just violin and harpsichord, as on the Naxos recording of Corelli’s Op.5/7–12 (see below) but the gamba is played with such sensitivity here that I didn’t find it at all intrusive. If I have a small reservation about the recording it concerns the comparative obscurity of the harpsichord, a complaint that I find myself making fairly frequently of modern recordings of baroque music…If you followed my recommendation of an earlier Naxos recording, of Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, Op.5/7–12, on 8.557799 will almost certainly like these two new CDs just as much. The performances, too, are of the same high quality as on that earlier recording, though by different performers. With good, bright recording, excellent notes by Adrian Butterfield, and Naxos’s usual well-chosen contemporary paintings on the front cover, these CDs should find a ready market…two hours of pleasure that you’ll derive from the new Naxos CDs, which not only fill a niche in the market—a Naxos speciality—but do so delightfully.

Brian Clark
Early Music Review, November 2009

I hope this is the beginning of a complete survey of Leclair’s violin sonatas from this line-up; in the past, several fiddlers seem to have set out with such an objective in mind, but have given up after a couple of discs. Here, Adrian Butterfield teams up with Alison McGillivray (gamba) and Laurence Cummings for the first four works from Book 1. These are a mix of dance movements and others identified by tempo marking, the Adagio with which each begins clearly fulfilling the role of Prelude. Thus Leclair, though much more technically demanding for the performers, asserts the Italian roots of his music, even if there’s no denying the Gallic flavour to some movements. I listened to this recital several times, often imagining the trio exchanging smiles as the musical ideas passed from one to the other, thoroughly enjoying this repertoire. This is not yet the mesmerizing Leclair, every bit as showy as Locatelli or Veracini, but Butterfield and Co. are wonderful in crisp, agile faster movements and the richly expressive slow ones. I look forward to more from all concerned!

Julie Anne Sadie
Gramophone, November 2009

This finely-crafted music is aptly interpreted in poised performances

In his day, Leclair was much in demand as a violinist for his mastery of both French and Italian styles. A good (if not great) composer, he produced music that’s finely crafted, charmingly tuneful and undeniably spirited. The four sonatas on this disc amply illustrate his personal synthesis of the prevailing styles, reflecting the influence both of his older contemporaries—Corelli and Vivaldi, Couperin and Rameau—and of his own considerable mastery of the violin.

Hence, we discover in Leclair’s opening Adagios a more optimistic, cosmopolitan Corelli and in the Allegros a love of wide tessitura, bariolage and repetition worthy of Vivaldi. But the refreshing innocence of his C major Sonata and the sophistication of many of the dance movements (particularly the finales) represent Leclair’s own voice. Couperin and Rameau might well have admired the extended A minor rondeau, with its delightful upward turns of phrase that briefly suspend the music in mid-air.

Adrian Butterfield is a worthy champion. He has grasped the gentle Arcadian spirit of the French Regency era that inspired Leclair’s work and the extent to which the music represents a departure from the formality and introspection of much of the music of the Louis XIV period. The sweetness of his tone, aptness of his tempi and the lightness with which he wears his virtuosity perfectly complement the music, and Alison McGillivray and Laurence Cummings provide unfailingly stylish support. This is one of those recordings you will want to return to again and again.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, September 2009

A thoroughly delightful and satisfying opening disc of (it is to be hoped) the complete four books of violin sonatas by Leclair, considered the founder of the French/Italian school of violin playing. The artists are seasoned early music players, who observe all the nuances typical of this style. Plus—wonder of wonders!—the solo and continuo are nicely balanced, allowing the full, delicious Gallic flavour of this beautiful music to come through. The continuation of the series is something to look forward to. [Vols 2 (Nos. 5–8) 8.570889 and 3 (Nos. 9–12) 8.570890 are scheduled for release in September and November 2009, respectively. All three volumes are available for digital download from ClassicsOnline – Ed]

Mike D. Brownell, September 2009

The first four sonatas of book one heard here are performed on Baroque violin (Adrian Butterfield), harpsichord (Laurence Cummings), and viola da gamba (Alison McGillivray). All three musicians unite in a singular interpretive vision of Leclair’s early writings. Articulation and ornamentation match closely, and the sparingly and appropriately used moments of tempo rubato are seamlessly executed.

Butterfield’s sound is clear and pure with conservative use of vibrato; intonation is pristine, and technical challenges such as double- and triple-stopping are executed with a sense of comfort and ease.

Jean-Claude Elias
The Jordan Times, August 2009

AMMAN — For the occasional classical music listener he may be less known than Vivaldi, Mozart or Beethoven, if known at all. And he is certainly less famous than his 12 years older contemporary the great Johann Sebastian Bach, but French composer Jean-Marie Leclair (1697–1764) is an essential element, a landmark, in the history of classical music.

Naxos records have released a new recording of Leclair’s four violin sonatas, opus 1. The superb CD features Adrian Butterfield, on Baroque violin, Alison McGillivray on viola da gamba and Laurence Cummings on harpsichord. The three are amongst the leading British artists able to perform baroque music with rare authenticity.

Their interpretation is characterised by the elegance and the lyricism of the music that blends the French touch with the Italian influence of masters like Corelli.

“The violin family of instruments was born and bred in Italy…In France it took much longer for the violin first to shake off its image as the instrument of the lower classes,” says violinist Adrian Butterfield. Leclair is highly regarded as the true founder of the French School of violin, though other French composers did write a few violin sonatas before him.

The four sonatas on the new CD titled “Jean-Marie LECLAIR, Violin Sonatas, Book 1” are written with the usual succession of fast-slow-fast movements. Sonatas 1, 2 and 3 are in four movements whereas the 4th sonata is in five movements.

Except in rare passages there is no particular display of virtuosity or technical difficulty. The stress here is rather on taste, elegance and form. This is some of the most refined baroque music one can listen to. Certain movements, like the rondeau for example, emphasise the French style whereas the others display the Italian style. As Butterfield rightly comments: this is “music that perfectly marries the French and Italian styles”.

Listening with eyes closed, without any prejudice, not thinking of baroque or music history, I found the four sonatas to be a bit austere, less attractive than, for instance, the music of Italian Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), perhaps the ultimate baroque violin composer. Still, each of the four sonatas does have its particular character.

The music of the sonata No. 1 in A minor is serious and grand, overall. The sonata No. 2 in C major with its rondeau-shaped gavotte and its gigue, two French dances from the baroque era, is more French than Italian. The sonata No. 3 in B flat major sounds almost witty, humorous in two of its movements. The Sonata No. 4 in D major, the only one with five movements, is the most lyrical, hence the most Italian.

The CD was recorded in 2008 at St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow, in London, using period instruments. As most of Naxos recordings this one shines with clarity, purity and lack of artefacts or useless digital processing and effects. Despite being recorded in a church the reverberation of the sound is almost unnoticeable; it is just what it takes to make a recording bright but not too much so as not to cause ear fatigue. As for the performance of the musicians it is simply immaculate.

The new disc will appeal to those deeply involved in classical music and who are interested in learning more about French baroque works for the violin.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group