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Elizabeth-Claude JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (c. 1664-1729)
Harpsichord Suites Nos. 1-6

Suite No. 1 in D minor (1687) [24:26]
Suite No. 2 in G minor (1687) [19:09]
Suite No. 3 in A minor (1687) [21:36]
Suite No. 4 in F (1687) [18:55]
Suite No. 5 in D minor (1707) [43:29]
Suite No. 6 in G (1707) [15:14]
Elizabeth Farr (harpsichord)
rec. 3-6 August 2004, Orum Hall, Valparaiso, Indiana, USA
NAXOS 8.557654-55 [65:11 + 77:39]

These discs represents a truly rare collection. The first four suites from 1687 were believed lost until possibly the only copy of the scores was found in Venice. The remaining two suites are from the only extant copy of Jacquet de la Guerre’s second book of harpsichord pieces.

For those not familiar with de la Guerre, she was a child prodigy born to a family of harpsichord builders. Certain liberties were of course taken, just as with Mozart and the young Beethoven, with her age while she performed for the court of Louis XIV until Versailles was constructed. She chose to stay in Paris and pursue composition, as well as her own salon, which she maintained in her home until she died in 1729.

Composed in the then-popular stile brise fashion, intended to emulate the playing of a lute, all chords are arpeggiated. This imitation of lute music goes even to the point of including unmeasured, unmetered preludes that were commonly used to allow lutenists to tune the instrument before the main movements of a work were played. The instrument, built on a French model, was chosen because its sound is close to that of the lute for which the music strives. Closely miked, the harpsichord has great presence during playback; the recording is crisp and excellently balanced.

Much of the notes in the booklet concern the use of ornamentation. Ornamentation tables indicating the composer’s intent regarding the symbols used in the scores were not included when the documents were discovered. Contemporary composers’ scores were consulted to make sure that these pieces were as close as possible to what the score required. The unfortunate part of this discussion on ornamentation is that there is simply too much of it in the performance. Indication is given that additional ornamentation was included during repeated passages and this, atop the already-notated indications in the score, give the lily a three-layer coat of gilt.

For those who greatly enjoy this type of music, played in this manner, this might be worth a listen — this music isn’t available anywhere else, and production values of the recording are superb. For many, though, this recording may just be too much of a good thing.

David Blomenberg

see also review by Glyn Pursglove



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