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GRAMOPHONE (02/2017)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

I’ve always rather liked the portrait of JeanJoseph Cassanéa de Mondonville. With his bonny face, playful smile and tidy steel-coloured wig with matching five o’clock shadow, he looks like a man who would make good company. Today this prominent violinist and composer from mid-18thcentury Paris is best remembered for being one of the last exponents of the grand motet and one of the first of the accompanied keyboard sonata, a genre which he put on the map with his Op 3 of 1734. That set has been recorded before, including the pimped-up version of them published as Sonates en Simphonies. The cover of this disc says that it is the ‘world premiere recording’ of his Op 2 Trio Sonatas of 1734, a claim that seems entirely believable. It is not just Mondonville’s portrait that suggests companionability. Like Leclair, he added French manners to the Corellian four-movement sonata format, though his habit of making third movements rather sweet little airs instead of the more traditional harmonic wring-out suggests that he did not really want to let things get too serious. There are some awkward corners, especially in the fugues, but in general the music is pleasant enough. Also shared with Leclair, however, is Mondonville’s taste for stretching the violinists’ technique, double-stopping being particularly prominent.

Ensemble Diderot made their recording at Royaumont Abbey in a somewhat hollow acoustic which can be both unforgiving towards intonation and harmful to mellifluousness, especially when there are double-stops to battle with. Two violins are used for Sonatas Nos 1, 2, 4 and 6, but in Nos 3 and 5, where the second part avoids double-stops, a flute takes it over, and it is noticeable how its more liquid sound can help smooth things over. But if in some ways this is not always the most refined of products, there is nimble expertise and good spirit here nevertheless.

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