“Leclair & His Rivals” = LOUIS-GABRIEL GUILLEMAIN: Sonata No. IV in A Major; JEAN-BAPTISTE CARDONNE: Sonata No. III in E minor; JEAN-PIERRE GUIGNON: Sonata Op. 1 No. 9 in C minor; JACQUES DUPHLY: Pieces de Clavecin: Ouverture; La de Mary; Chaconne; JEAN-MARIE LECLAIR: Sonata No. XII in G Major – Leila Schayegh, Baroque violin/ Jörg Halubek, harpsichord – Pan Classics PC 10278, 66:12 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Jean-Marie Leclair (1697–1764) was the leading figure among French violin virtuosi of the eighteenth century, contributing greatly to the Goût réuni or “united style” that characterized French music-making during the period. As a young man Leclair studied in Turin with Giovanni Baptista Somis, whose influence on a generation of French violinists produced this style that united French and Italian musical tastes. As Leclair and others forged this united style, the influence of French musicians with Italian proclivities filtered through the rest of Europe, leaving its mark on the styles of Bach and Telemann.
While this album is titled “Leclair & His Rivals,” it mostly highlights the chief rivalry that Leclair faced, that from Jean-Pierre Guignon, five years Leclair’s junior, also a student of Somis in Turin. Both Guignon and Leclair were brought on by the French court as ordinaires de la musique du roy, which led to a power struggle over the leadership of the court orchestra. While the two musicians resolved to share leadership duties, the testy Leclair was apparently unsatisfied with this arrangement and finally lit out for the Netherlands, returning to Paris in 1743 out of economic necessity but never regaining his former standing.
Of the remaining figures represented here, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705–1770) was perhaps a rival, having been hired by the court as ordinaire de la musique du roy in the very year, 1737, that Leclair left Paris. Another pupil of Somis in Turin, Guillemain made his mark in Paris while still a teenager and was one of the highest-paid musicians at the court, though all was not rosy in later life: “Guillemain had to struggle with severe stage fright, and almost never performed as soloist in front of larger audiences. In later years he began to drink, and at his death was buried with great haste—perhaps a sign that he had committed suicide.” Modern-day Hollywood does not have a corner on tragic fallen stars.
The other two composers are, as the note writer admits, not really rivals in any sense but instead represent the next generation of musicians who found favor at court as the older talents, for one reason or another, departed the scene. As such, they are transitional figures between the late Baroque and early Classical eras. Jacques Duphly (1715–1798) was not even a violinist but instead an organist and claveciniste, one of the most celebrated teachers of harpsichord in Paris, as well as highly popular composer of suites for harpsichord, collected in four books. The Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin, which appeared in 1756, contains sonatas for keyboard with violin accompaniment, forerunners of the Classical violin sonata: recall that all of Mozart’s sonatas and Beethoven’s first two sonatas are designated “sonatas for piano and violin.”
Jean-Baptiste Cardonne (1730–1792), a favorite at the court of Louis XV, wrote early examples of the same for the king’s daughters; the third of these Sonates pour Clavecin et violon accompangné (1765) is included in this recital. The sonatas by Guillemain and Cardonne feature the standard three movements of the Classical instrumental sonata, though as hybrid works, they also incorporate the stylized dance forms of the Baroque suite, such as sarabande and gigue.
The works on this program have been artfully chosen to provide maximum contrast, from the dashing sonata of Guillemain, which commences with a brilliant Presto, through the melancholy E-minor strains of Cardonne to the stately music of Leclair, cast in the largely outmoded form of the church sonata (slow-fast-slow-fast). Despite the conservatism of its formal construction, the work immediately announces itself as music conceived for royalty. From Wikipedia, I learn that for the Baroque composer, the key of G major was the key of benediction—a particularly good way to win royal friends. Again, Guignon’s tenderly plaintive sonata is followed by the confident, light-spirited Duphly pieces with their engagingly busy part for Duphly’s own instrument, the harpsichord.
The performances here are all stylish to a tee, fast movements delivered with special fervor, but the more inward passages of Cardonne and Guignon are given their full due as well. Swiss Baroque violinist Leila Schayegh is a multiple award winner and has recorded widely. Without realizing it, I’ve encountered her work before in the much-lauded series of Handel cantatas recorded by La Risonanza, with which she served as concertmaster from 2006 to 2010. (I highly recommend this series on the Glossa label, by the way.) Her partner, harpsichordist and organist Jörg Halubek, studied with Andrea Marcon and is currently professor of historical keyboard instruments at Linz’s Anton Bruckner Private University; the Duphly pieces showcase his estimable talents. Abetted by a fine, forward, very present studio recording, these performances should give pleasure to lovers of the Baroque and of violin music in general.