musica Dei donum

Concert reviews

Bach (JChr, JS & CPhE), Böhm, Eberlin, Fischer (JCF), Krebs, de Nebra, Pachelbel
Gustav Leonhardt, clavichord
concert: Utrecht, Feb 15, 2003

JChr Bach: Prelude and fugue in C; Böhm: Partite sopra Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig; Pachelbel: Fantasia in E flat; Aria Sebaldina, con partite; Böhm: Suite in f minor; JS Bach: 4 Little Preludes; Preludes and fugues in f sharp minor (BWV 859) and in E (BWV 878) (from WTC); Suite in f minor (BWV 823); Fischer: Chaconne in G; Eberlin: Toccata in F; Krebs: Jesu, meine Freude; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen; Jesu, meine Zuversicht (from Clavierübung); De Nebra: Sonata nr 4; CPhE Bach: Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere in einem Rondo in e minor (Wq 66/H 272)

It isn't very often that the clavichord can be heard in public concerts. It is basically an instrument most suited to be played in private rooms, where a small audience can sit around the instrument and enjoy its exquisite and subtle sound. So I don't know how much those in the audience have heard who weren't seated close to the instrument. The concert took place in the small auditorium of the Utrecht Muziekcentrum, but it is still too large a space for such an instrument. It was a nice experience, though, in particular since Gustav Leonhardt was playing. He hasn't played the instrument very often in concerts, and even on CD there isn't that much proof of his skills in clavichord playing. The concert was part of a series, entitled "Masters of the keyboard". That Gustav Leonhardt is a master of the harpsichord is universally acknowledged. Saturday night he amply demonstrated his great skills on the clavichord as well.

The programme was very well put together and played in the order as given above. It started and ended with Bach. First Johann Christoph, the elder brother of Johann Sebastian, and a typical representative of the German baroque with the characteristic form of prelude and fugue, written in the rhetorical style dominant in Germany around 1700. He was followed by two important composers who can be linked to Johann Sebastian: Johann Pachelbel, who was Johann Christoph Bach's teacher and through him influenced Johann Sebastian, and Georg Böhm, direct teacher of Johann Sebastian, who brought him into contact with the North German keyboard style, but also with the French tradition. The first part ended with Johann Sebastian himself. After the interval it was Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, whose Ariadne Musica, a collection of preludes and fugues, was a direct model for Johann Sebastian's Wohltemperirtes Clavier, from which two preludes and fugues were played in the first part. Johann Ernst Eberlin is a typical representative of the 'Empfindsamkeit', whose works were closely studied by Mozart. Then Johann Ludwig Krebs, Bach's favourite pupil, whose keyboard works are strongly influenced by his teacher, but nevertheless has developed a style of his own. Manuel Blasco de Nebra is not exactly a household name: living from 1750 to 1784 he was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, stylistically close to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Very appropriately it was with him that the concert ended, his Rondo 'Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere' being one of the most striking examples of his very personal style and the 'Empfindsamkeit' in general.

The style of playing of Gustav Leonhardt is well known. And everything was there: the strong sense of rhythm resulting in astonishingly swinging interpretations of fast movements of the keyboard suites, the subtle rubato which hardly can be measured, but only 'felt' and which creates a strong tension, the brilliant structure of the musical argument which reflects a thorough knowledge of the musical rhetorics. He used the dynamic possibilities of the clavichord very effectively. Only in the pieces by De Nebra and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach he used the effect of the 'Bebung', rightly so, I think, being a typical feature of the 'Empfindsamkeit'.

A couple of observations. As far as the programme is concerned: a number of pieces are most often played on the organ, like the partita by Böhm, the Aria Sebaldina by Pachelbel, and the chorales from the Clavierübung by Krebs. But they all worked extremely well on the clavichord. There were some little known pieces which were quite interesting, like the Toccata by Eberlin, with strong chromaticism, and the sonata by De Nebra, consisting of two movements: a very expressive adagio, very reminiscent of CPhE Bach, and an allegro which is a kind of showpiece to demonstrate the skills of the player, with many repeated notes.
As far as the performance is concerned, Leonhardt was more generous in the use of ornaments than he usually is, quite striking here for example in the partita by Böhm. And although he always will be most at home in baroque music, his performance of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's piece was full of tension and passion. It was a worthy conclusion of a highly remarkable night, showing the unique qualities of music, instrument and performer.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

Concert reviews