Bach: Goldberg Variations

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LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Gustav Leonhardt Edition
WORKS: Goldberg Variations
PERFORMER: Gustav Leonhardt (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21351-2 ADD Reissue (1965)
Gustav Leonhardt must be among the very few musicians to have had the honour of a personal ‘Edition’ conferred upon him by two different recording companies. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi issued its tribute to this pioneer of the period instrument renaissance in 1996, though it has not so far beenavailable in the UK. Teldec has sensibly chosen 1998 to launch its altogether more comprehensive survey, thereby honouring both Leonhardt’s 70th birthday in May of this year, and the company’s own 40th anniversary. The Teldec edition reflects his multifaceted musicianship as organist, harpsichordist, scholar and director of his Leonhardt Consort, and the four releases in front of me, from a set of ten separately available discs, take each aspect into account.


While everything here is of interest, either from a historical perspective or from an expressive viewpoint – or, indeed, both – the degree of musical satisfaction derived by a listener is, perhaps, less constant. Leonhardt’s performances, almost needless to say, are unfailingly polished in technique, thoughtful and, on occasion, provocative in detail. But ears that have grown up with and become attuned to the present level of harpsichord building and refurbishment may not readily respond to all that they hear in these elderly reissues. My ears, certainly, require advance notice of the earlier Schütze and Skowroneck models after JD Dulcken and others, to allow for adjustment. It is a hard sound, emphasised perhaps by Teldec’s excellent but close balance. That goes, too, for a Fifties copy of a Dresden instrument which Leonhardt uses for Couperin’s eight preludes from L’art de toucher le clavecin and a selection of pieces by Rameau. These items, and the Handel F minor Suite, provide the least congenial company here.

As for the rest, and especially the Bach pieces, we are constantly reminded of Leonhardt’s almost visionary insights to styles and ideas about Baroque performance which we now take for granted. Leonhardt was experimenting with period instruments as early as 1953 and the fruits of his work in this sphere can be enjoyed without serious reservation in the English consort pieces recorded by Teldec mainly during the mid-Sixties.


In summary, these are affectionate and timely tributes to one of our ‘early music’ giants, well documented and containing, variously, plaudits from Bob van Asperen and Ton Koopman, two of his most successful pupils. Nicholas Anderson