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Kate Bolton
BBC Music Magazine, October 2013


LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 1, Nos. 5-8 (Butterfield, McGillivray, Cummings) 8.570889
LECLAIR, J.-M.: Violin Sonatas, Op. 2, Nos. 1-5, 8 (Butterfield, Manson, Cummings) 8.572866

Leclair’s music is graceful and felicitous, the shadow of Corelli hovering over Book I, while in Book II Leclair exploits new effects and idiomatic techniques, including double stopping, bariolage and a more extended upper range. The rhythms of dance—both courtly and rustic—pervade (Leclair a dancer), and his lyrical melodies are embellished with lacy decorations (he was also a lace-maker).

The two books make for delightful listening…Violinist Adrian Butterfield and his colleagues are sympathetic interpreters, fully conversant with the intimate yet intricate French Baroque manner. Most successful are the elegiac slow movements, where Butterfield’s playing seems vocally inspired: his sound cantabile, his articulation eloquent. At budget price…they make for a most welcome pair of discs that unveil some beguiling and seldom heard music. © 2013 BBC Music Magazine

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.

BBC Music Magazine, January 2010

Leclair’s Corelli-haunted First Book of Sonatas might have been overshadowed by later volumes, but there’s a deal of attractive music to savour. The ensemble interplay is exemplary and the gamba playing in Op. 1 No. 8 is irresistible.

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.

James Manheim, November 2009

A soiree presented by Jean-Marie Leclair for one of his wealthy patrons would never have run through his sonatas for violin and continuo in sequence, as Baroque violinist Adrian Butterfield and his small ensemble have done here and on the predecessor of this disc, which offered the first four sonatas of Leclair’s Op. 1 [8.570888]. Yet these little sonatas, Italian in conception yet thoroughly French in spirit, are worth recording systematically to see exactly how the combination works. It is the slow movements, each of which on this disc is entirely individual in construction, that reveal Leclair’s French roots in their heavy ornamentation and affecting spirit. They make lovely contrasts with the outer movements, in which Leclair reveals his debt to his model, Arcangelo Corelli. The performances by British Baroque violinist Adrian Butterfield, with a conventional continuo of viola da gamba (Alison McGillivray) and harpsichord (Laurence Cummings), break little new ground but are entirely sympathetic to Leclair in spirit. Butterfield is smooth in even the most intricate ornaments. This can be recommended for large Baroque collections and even for general listeners interested in sampling period violin style; “authentic” performances are rarely done with such confidence and verve.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, September 2009

The first volume of these sonatas recently reviewed was a delight, and this second disc—as expected—is no disappointment. These musicians have a firm grasp of the style, and the recording is nicely balanced and acoustically lively. Given the vast number of works penned by Leclair (3 more books of sonatas, plus 2 volumes of concertos), and this label's penchant for complete sets of major works, it looks like collectors have much to look forward to from these wonderful artists.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

Born in 1697, Jean-Marie Leclair, was the first major French composer to establish the violin on the same level of popularity as the viol. It was, however, his time spent in Italy that gave him the inspiration and insight into writing sonatas very much in the style of Corelli, and though the French elegance is always apparent, the need for the performer to add ornamentation is derived from Italy. They were a tremendous success and were reprinted four times soon after publishing in 1723, much of the works written in the form of a dance—Leclair himself having studied dancing. In later life he indicated the tempos he expected for his movements, generally complaining that violinists played them much too fast to display virtuosity. Here on a Baroque violin, with viola da gamba and harpsichord accompaniment, Adrian Butterfield, takes an unhurried view, the dances refined and courtly. How much latitude would have originally been employed in phrasing is something we can only guess, Butterfield taking the rhythms of the fast movements literally. but moving tempos around in the slow movements. His intonation is exemplary, his bowing creating seamless legato sections and Cummings adds a very vibrant harpsichord that in weight matches Butterfield. Alison McGillivray’s viola da gamba is always nicely present and perfectly weighted, Leclair giving the performer a very athletic part on the Eighth sonata. Excellent sound quality.

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