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Carolus Hacquart, though not a household name even among the early music fraternity, was arguably the most important composer of the Low Countries in the 17th century. Listening to both discs, it seems that Hacquart is ripe for a wider revival. In the ensemble sonatas recorded by Fernandez and co., one can hear traces of Biber, Erlebach – even Purcell, an apt reminder that, by virtue of their geographical position, the Low Countries were quite the melting-pot of musical influences.

As was common among his Northern European contemporaries, Hacquart treats the viola da gamba as a melody instrument in these sonatas; particularly striking is the Sonata settima a tre, with its fine balance between Fernandez’ violin and Phillipe Pierlot’s viol, and a rich continuo of viol, archlute and organ. The entire ensemble plays with supreme nuance and sensitivity, with some refined ornamentation and an overall sense of pace and drama; the only disappointment is that Laurent Stewart’s keyboard continuo is not more present in the overall sound.

For those new to Hacquart, this disc is an excellent introduction. My only quibble is the English translation of the note, which is a little awkward – translating the Netherlands as the ‘Low Lands’ and the English King James II as ‘Jacob II’. But this is a minor detail, as the contextual information is excellent.

The Suites for Viol likewise occupy a middle ground somewhere between Biber’s violin sonatas and Marais’ first two books, perhaps leaning closer to Marais in their classical balance of movements and perfectly poised sarabandes. Balestracci delves deeply into the musical rhetoric, bringing a different colour and sense of Affekt to each key; the result is an enticing performance in which each suite maintains a clearly delineated character.

Hacquart’s suites were published without a continuo bass, although one exists in a manuscript copied in England around the same time; it is this which Pierlot uses when recording three of the sarabandes for Le maistre de musique. Balestracci employs a large bass group throughout, and it would be interesting to know whether these continuo parts are his own invention, or taken from the same manuscript – also why a violone, rather than a second viol, was chosen as the preferred bowed bass. The continuo is supportive of the performance though, and gives added depth to Balestracci’s strong, resonant tone.

All in all, some masterful solo playing, and pieces which deserve more attention among performers.

Caroline Ritchie Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing