Simon Standage and Nicholas Parle record sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair on Chandos Chaconne, (p) 2006. On a chance encounter in the local Tower I came across this new release of Leclair violin sonatas, amid choice harpsichord solos (Couperin, Forqueray, Duphly) which include op. 9 no. 1, no. 3, no. 5, and no. 8. The liner notes tell us that these works are complex, but less in an extrovert way, but instead in an artful, "tasteful" way. Despite their complexity, they are not performed today. Perhaps that is the issue. Perhaps it is because they are not "showy" Italiante pieces. Nevertheless, Leclair was not only a gifted violinist, but also penned some rather inventive works. In the past, I had enjoyed Standage's recitals with CM90 of the Leclair concertos. While I typically find CM90 in tasteful, but reserved form, I wasn't sure what to expect in this duo recital. In fact, I can't remember once listening to Standage in a solo or chamber capacity. Not true, I know, considering his tenure with the Solomon Quartet, but as a soloist, compared to the likes of Andrew Manze with Romanesca or with Richard Egarr, the CDs are simply not there. If this turns out to be a new series for him, then we may have some fun discs ahead. With that said, I might like to start my comments on the recording at hand, and specifically, the sound quality. The harpsichord sounds as if the mike might be right under the keyboard, near the low end of the keyboard. Either that, or the instrument used is so poor. The volume of the recording is quite low compared to other tracks in my collection. Some tracks with harpsichord alone (Kenneth Gilbert on Archiv) sound like a teen-grunge band compared to the quiet version of Leclair by Standage and Parle. I just think the sound is too low, requiring a healthy adjustment at the amplifier. When amplified, the solution isn't quickly found. Too much of a low, muffled pounding sound from the keyboard then is the prominent voice. My advice might be to get closer to the mikes, and ditch the keyboard used for a better one. That said, I like Standage's tone. If rusticness is something to admire, I have admired it in his playing. It's been there strongest in his recording of the Four Seasons with Pinnock, and it's there too in his recording of the Mozart violin concertos with the AAM. In Leclair's slower movements, he appropriately loses this quality, but I have a hard time enjoying these movements due to the muddiness in the sound of the harpsichord. The faster movements are far better, for I think Leclair was better at writing in this style; less sustained muckraking in the harpsichord also helps with these quicker movements. Leclair's fasts are slower than, let's say, a Locatelli, but he fits plenty more notes in those bars. Good music to be found here. Poor recorded sound quality (or else a bad keyboard used in combination with bad miking). The incidental harpsichord works seem like filler, but are performed well, nonetheless, my favorite being the La superbe by Couperin 'le Grand.' Earlier François Fernandez released two recitals of Leclair sonatas; one repeats here, but both are played well. If the recorded sound was better, I could warmly recommend this disc.
Originally published in June, 2006.