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GRAMOPHONE ( 02/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Recordings of Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre’s harpsichord music are not rare; recordings of her chamber music are. Yet in the story of how French music gradually fell under the influence of Italian, her sonatas of the early 1690s played a vital part, being among the very first to come from the pen of any French composer. More importantly for us today, however, is their quality and character; these are no slavish imitations of Corelli but works which marry features of the Italianate sonata to a personality that is both individual and firmly French. Considering some of the more derivative Baroque sonatas that have been recorded over the years, the four trio sonatas and two violin sonatas presented here demand a hearing.

The trios make up the most interesting part of the recording – robustly made music in which Jacquet de La Guerre shows her fertile melodic imagination and harmonic depth, packing it all in by casting the sonatas in sections linked by transitions rather than as discrete movements à la Corelli. It makes them less predictable and more able to surprise and delight. Her violin sonatas are more conventional but leave space for the continuo gamba to cut loose, and also include some of the earliest examples in French music of violin multiple-stopping.

The London-based Bach Players have been playing Jacquet de La Guerre for a while now – they included a different trio on their ‘An Italian in Paris’ album (Hyphen Press, 9/14) – and their performances of the trios in particular are stylistically and musically assured, allowing this fine music the seriousness and room to breathe it needs. Some of the sonatas are prefaced by a harpsichord prelude, effectively provided by Silas Wollston. Nicolette Moonen’s intonation in the violin sonatas is a little on the edge, it has to be be said, but the group’s move to a new label has brought rewards in a more focused and happily balanced recording than hitherto.

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