The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Harmonie Universelle
Composer: Leclair

Having established a reputation as an outstanding dancer and violinist in his native France, Jean Marie Leclair spent time during his mature years living in Turin where he extended his violin studies and imbued the latest style of Italian composition. The marriage of the French détaché approach that Lully had encouraged in the previous generation and the cantabile melodies of Italian music created the individual structure for Leclair’s extensive catalogue of works for violin.

Dates of his early compositions are uncertain: the set of six sonatas for two violins first appeared in published form during 1730, and their popularity in the eighteenth century ensured a further eight editions being printed. The music calls for considerable dexterity in the mercurial finales, though it is Leclair’s love of double-stopping that provides an ongoing challenge.

As the sonatas seldom find a place in today’s concert programmes, these vivacious and exemplary performances from Florian Deuter and Monica Waisman are most welcome. Brought together as the ensemble Harmonie Universelle they mainly explore 17th- and 18th-century chamber music, performing on outstanding modern reproductions of period instruments. The key to their performances is the well-nigh impeccable intonation as the two instruments intertwine in the most elaborate and virtuoso web of chromatic progressions. They are perfectly balanced both tonally and in weight of instrumental line, and their rhythmic exactitude and ability lucidly to create the most intricate figurations do full justice to Leclair’s attractive invention. The recording quality is excellent.