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GRAMOPHONE (04/2024)
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Reviewer :
Lindsay Kemp

The hour referenced in the title is the period in the early decades of the 18th century when Italian influence was making itself felt in French chamber music. On the one hand the sonatas of Corelli, and his way with a violin, were seeping into the Gallic musical awareness, giving it a new formal and emotional assertiveness; on the other the French love affair with the viola da gamba was continuing, pressing composers to preserve its silvery voice in the aural and stylistic melange known as the goûts réunis. In these six pieces, then, the gamba is for much of the time not just a bass-line instrument but also a trio-sonata companion to the violin, intertwining with it and taking its share of solo spotlights.


The resulting overall aesthetic is both unmistakably French and irreversibly Italian, though the proportions in which the two manners coexist varies, such that each of the sonatas on this album has its own, often unpredictable personality. All except one follow the typically Italian four-movement format, for instance, but while Dornel includes a Corellian secondmovement fugue, his other movements are recognisably French, concluding with a lyrically flowing chaconne. Boismortier and Leclair (who studied in Rome) are more clearly on the Italian side, Francoeur sits somewhere between (a gutsy ‘courente’ one moment, a melting sicilienne the next), and Rebel’s joyfully athletic writing pauses for a recitative passage reminiscent of the 17th-century violin-gamba trio sonatas of Buxtehude.


Characterful music demands characterful playing, of course, and that is what it gets from these talented and experienced chamber musicians, who throughout avoid any sense of the routine. Their sound is clear but liquid and lyrical, with a richness that allows them to take time over the music and nourish it, an approach that brings extra depth to slower movements in particular, where the ornaments and dissonances speak with compelling eloquence. The two string-players make a perfect pairing, listening and leaning into each other’s music-making with soft intensity; both Leclair sonatas are their own arrangements (made with reasonable historical justification) of two-violin originals, and they could hardly have given themselves a better present, nor accepted it more gratefully. Listen to the way they caress their way through Op 13 No 2 (especially the third movement) if you want to hear baroque music-making at its intelligent, creative best.

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