Couperin; Frescobaldi Keyboard Works
A new recital from Gustav Leonhardt of two of the Baroque’s most inventive keyboard composers: this combination of artist and repertoire can hardly fail to raise expectations. Leonhardt is, apart from anything else, one of the leading and most prolific champions of Frescobaldi in the recording studio, and no slouch either when it comes to the clavecinistes. But the idea of confronting the two repertories is intriguing, and it lends this recording a distinctive character.
Leonhardt is at his most impressive in Frescobaldi. He has never been the most flamboyant of his interpreters, and those who enjoy the brilliant flourishes of a Hantaï or an Alessandrini (as I certainly do) may find this understatement austere; but as so often, repeated listening reveals a deep sensitivity to the nuances, the twists and turns of Frescobaldi’s invention. This is true of the best-known pieces here (such as the 1627 Canzona terza). Leonhardt never rushes things, even in the Toccatas, but lets the music breathe, without ever giving the impression of self-indulgence. Instead there is a restrained spontaneity born of years of intimacy with the music. It makes for excellent, reflective late-night listening. The Couperin programme is admirably chosen, and although the dances don’t ‘swing’ as much as they might, the sense of abstraction is leavened by Leonhardt’s evident feel for the music’s artifice. (The concluding Pavanne illustrates this as well as anything else.)
Leonhardt uses two modern replicas of period instruments, a French one for Couperin and an Italian for Frescobaldi – the former’s tone being the more astringent. Both were recorded in the same venue. I almost tire of pointing it out, but the sound-recording and presentation (including evocative photos of the recording sessions, Leonhardt’s gloved hands tuning the instruments) are up to Alpha’s usual standard. Altogether, an inspiring issue.