Classical Gustav Leonhardt Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Gustav Leonhardt's patrician demeanour and Calvinistic refusal to indulge his ego run contrary to the common trend for keyboard players to emulate performing seals. And yet he has the power to transfix an audience, as he did throughout his Wigmore Hall recital, without the need for gratuitous showmanship or wild musical gestures. Austerity and sobriety are the names of his particular performing game, tempered by a compelling mix of passion and commitment to the broad repertoire within his command.

Whatever the expressive limitations of the harpsichord, Leonhardt has found a way of bringing the instrument to life. In Henri Dumont's Allemande grave, for example, the clarity of his articulation highlighted individual themes to register as they might if performed on a piano. Elsewhere he successfully introduced light and shade into the most dense of contrapuntal textures, memorably so in Froberger's Ricercar No II and the opening movement of Matthias Weckmann's Partita in B minor.

It is tempting to conjecture that Louis Couperin would have been glad to accept Leonhardt among his pupils, such was the graceful ease with which he recreated the Frenchman's music. His account of the Suite in A minor was distinguished by its rhythmic ebb and flow, subtle, refined and entirely without mannerism, and by the ideal balance of speeds chosen for successive movements. Leonhardt gave a comparably eloquent, daringly slow reading of Couperin's hypnotic Tombeau de Monsieur de Blancrocher, a work composed in honour of the unfortunate victim of an accident involving too much wine and a steep flight of stairs.

Among the keyboard works of Matthias Weckmann, a pupil of the great Heinrich Schutz, stand several genuine virtuoso pieces, including a brisk, tempestuous Toccata in E minor, improvisatory in style and full of striking contrasts. Here Leonhardt's pristine fingering and unflagging rhythmic energy transformed what could so easily be presented as a rather empty keyboard exercise into a compelling, intensely dramatic work.

Weckmann enjoyed a close friendship with Johann Jacob Froberger, one of the 17th century's most cosmopolitan and influential keyboard composers. He made his name at the Viennese court of Emperor Ferdinand III, whose patronage enabled him to study with Frescobaldi in Rome. The suitably bleak, tormented harmonies and fractured melodic line of Froberger's Lamentation, written in 1657 to mark Ferdinand's death, inspired Leonhardt's finest playing. There was a disturbing, other-worldly chill in his apparent empathy with the work's sombre progress, delivered as if he were improvising at a memorial service for the deceased.

The second half of the programme was given over to a series of flamboyant character pieces by the Forqueray family, father Antoine and son Jean- Baptiste. Leonhardt's stately, almost pompous treatment of Le Regente neatly recalled its intended subject, Philippe d'Orleans, regent during Louis XV's minority; likewise, the warmth and affection of Antoine Forqueray's tribute to a certain Dr Tronchin was delicately expressed. The keyboard wizardry required and supplied for Jean-Baptiste's L'Angrave was finally bettered in his father's La Morangis, with Leonhardt offering a model of stylish, characterful playing.

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