London Baroque Plays French Trio Sonatas

Review by: John Greene


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

London Baroque offers a selection of mostly unfamiliar yet often inspired French baroque trio sonatas. With the exception of François Couperin’s L’Imperiale, the works by Leclair, Boismortier, and especially those by Dolle and Guignon are rarely performed, let alone recorded. They do, however, feature many charming and evocative moments, and given the case London Baroque makes for them, they clearly deserve to be heard.

The opening adagio of Dolle’s Sonata in G minor features gorgeously sustained violin legato set against a loosely measured bass viol and harpsichord continuo (imagine Albinoni performed without the slightest trace of sentimentality). The lively second-movement Allegro ma non troppo and final Allegro of Leclair’s Sonata No. 3 in G minor also are quite stunning with frequent ravishing interplay between violinists Ingrid Seifert and Richard Gwilt. The program’s concluding work, Guignon’s Sonata in D major, is equally impressive. The opening Staccato movement is laced with often broad “overture-like” gestures that both facilitate the momentum and at other times stifle it. I did enjoy the inordinate variety of rhythmic changes throughout the uptempo second- and fourth-moment allegros.

By far the lengthiest work on the program is Couperin’s well-known L’Imperiale, the third “Ordre” from his four-part chamber music masterpiece Les Nations. This performance must be one of the speediest available, quicker than all of my reference recordings, including both the Kuijken Ensemble (Accent) and Musica Antiqua Köln (Archiv), as well as timing four-and-a-half minutes less than my longstanding favorite performance by Hesperion XX (Astrée). Listening to these virtuoso performers swing through much of Couperin’s glorious music is often dazzling, though there are moments (both the Gravements in the first Sonate, the Allemande, and especially the Chaconne) where a little more restraint would have been welcome.

The sound is quite good, somewhat bright, though with a nicely detailed sense of soundstage and instrumental balance. As is often the case with London Baroque recordings, bass violist Charles Medlam supplies the notes, which are always informative and entertaining. It’s been more than a decade since London Baroque began its European trio sonata recording odyssey for BIS, with by and large great success (reviews of two of the other recordings in this series are available in the archives). And here is another wonderful installment, warmly recommended.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: The Trio Sonata in 18th-Century France
Reference Recording: Hesperion XX (Astrée); Kuijken Ensemble (Accent); Musica Antiqua Köln (Archiv)

Francois Couperin: L'Imperiale; Charles Dolle: Sonata in G minor Op.1 No. 6; Jean-Marie Leclair: Sonata No. 3 in G minor Op. 13 No. 6; Joseph Bodin de Boismortier: Trio in E minor Op. 37 No. 2; Jean-Pierre Guignon: Sonata in D major Op. 4 No. 2

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