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Elizabeth-Claude JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (c.1665-1729)
Suites Nos: 1 in D minor (1687) [24:26]; 2 in G minor (1687) [19:09]; 3 in A minor (1687) [21:36]; 4 in F major (1687) [18:55]; No. 5 in D minor (1707) [43:29]; No. 6 in G major (1707) [15:14]
Elizabeth Farr, harpsichord.
Recorded Orum Hall, Valparaiso, USA, 3-6 August 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557654-55 [65:11 + 77:39]

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The musical talents of Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet, who became Jacquet de La Guerre at her marriage in 1684 to the organist Marin de la Guerre, attracted the patronage of Louis XIV’s court while she was still little more than a child. She was an admired singer, virtuoso player of the harpsichord and composer of at least one opera (Céphale et Procris, 1694), a number of cantatas both secular and sacred, trio sonatas – and the harpsichord works recorded here.

We are fortunate, in at least two senses, to have these harpsichord suites. Fortunate, first, because they contain much fine and rewarding music and secondly, because until modern times the collection of 1687 was presumed lost. A unique surviving copy was found by Carl Henry Bates, in Venice, and formed the basis of an edition published in 1986. According to the booklet notes by Elizabeth Farr, the 1707 collection also survives in only a single copy.

Jacquet de La Guerre’s music belongs firmly in the great tradition of French harpsichord music, and deserves an honourable place in that tradition. Her use of unmeasured preludes is reminiscent of Louis Couperin; it was perhaps through her evident familiarity with at least some of Couperin’s music that she absorbed something of the influence of Froberger. This is particularly true of the 1687 suites. In the later suites – to which she also wrote optional parts for the violin – it is perhaps of François Couperin, her close contemporary, that one is most likely to think, or even of the Italian tradition in, for example, the beautiful Tocade which opens Suite No. 4. I mention these affinities merely as a way of ‘locating’ Jacquet de La Guerre’s work, and intend no suggestion that that work is in any sense merely derivative.

Jacquet de La Guerre’s unmeasured preludes are perhaps best seen as attempts to record something of the quality of her improvisations at the keyboard. The nature of the score leaves much to the skill, judgement and imagination of the player and Elizabeth Farr displays finesse and stylistic understanding in her interpretation of the preludes to the first three of these suites. Just occasionally one might have wishes for slightly more passion, but Farr’s reading is convincing and consistent. Her playing of the arpeggiated chords in the Prelude to Suite no. 3 is particularly attractive and persuasive, rich in its employment of the instrument’s range. Indeed, this third Suite is perhaps the most consistently interesting of the 1687 suites and brings out the best in Farr. She brings out the relative delicacy of the Gavotte in playing of real sensitivity, and in the Menuet she responds well to Jacquet de La Guerre’s stylised ‘naiveté’. Farr’s playing of the Chaconne, structured as rondeau with a recurrent main theme alternating with a variety of contrasting material, makes impressive use of instrumental contrast and shows off to great effect the lower registers of her instrument – built in 2003 by Keith Hill and very much in the French style. There is much that is lute-like in Jacquet de La Guerre’s music and Hill’s instrument is well suited to such demands.

The first three Suites all have nine movements; the fourth has eight. Jacquet de la Guerre distinguishes the various dance forms without exaggeration; under Farr’s hands her sarabandes are particularly striking. In the suites from 1707 the use of syncopation is more pronounced and some of the harmonies are more adventurous; more use is made of contrasting keys. Again Farr serves the music well. Her intelligence is evident in all that she does here, as is her real understanding of the questions which Jacquet de La Guerre’s music raises. She is completely at home with this music and its characteristic idioms.

All who love the French harpsichord tradition will surely find much to enjoy here. Jacquet de La Guerre’s extensive use of the style brisé means that no performance can ever be thought of as in any way definitive. But these readings are certainly convincingly idiomatic and thoroughly enjoyable.

Glyn Pursglove



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