Gustav Leonhardt was a major force in the movement to perform early music on period instruments. He was a keyboard player and conductor, and also a bit of a wiz in the recording studio. The Gustav Leonhardt Edition contains 21 discs of near perfect baroque music, with a heavy emphasis on harpsichord works. People insist that you can't buy happiness, but in fact you can.
Of the 21 discs, eight are dedicated to concertos and chamber works by J S Bach. The other 13 CDs are a flood of joyous noises by deliciously obscure composers such as Mondonville, Kuhnau, Rosenmüller, Grigny, Scheidt, Schmelzer, Poglietti, Turini Caccini and Marini as well as more familiar names like Purcell, Frescobaldi, Rameau Scarlatti and Couperin. The greatness of this set makes it very hard to write about without seeming sycophantic. So, here's a solitary complaint: There is a very slight wavering of otherwise superb sound quality in the second disc of Bach's violin sonatas - but you can only detect it with headphones on. Nothing to get excited about, since it only lasts a few seconds.
Here are some highlights: J S Bach Violin Sonatas (two discs). Totally compelling playing. Entirely unsentimental, keeping a steady hand, even in the most heart-rending moments. Repeats are always given extra injection of gusto. Oddly the violin is alone in the left channel and the harpsichord is lonely in the right. J S Bach Harpsichord Concertos (three discs). The better-known pieces alongside the lesser-spotted concertos. If you ever wondered what the Double Violin Concerto would sound like played on a harpsichord, wonder no more. Virtuoso playing from Leonhardt. Very sensitive orchestral playing. Rameau Chamber Music. Odd, fresh and fantastic stuff for harpsichord, violin, viola da gamba and a very haunting transverse flute played by Frans Brüggen. Mondonville Violin Sonatas. More flashy violin writing than in Bach's sonatas. Probably written for the composer to perform himself, showing off his nifty, dynamic playing and thrusting, dramatic writing. Froberger Keyboard Works. Mournful and very individual music. Perfectly calm dissonances played with a simple and sweet organ tone. Kuhnau Biblical Sonatas. Totally bizarre and unique organ works. These are sort of early tone poems - sonatas depicting Biblical stories that begin with Leonhardt reading quite lengthy chunks from the Old Testament (in German). There are partial translations in the booklet, just enough to give you a clue what the music is doing: "The terrible din and defiance of Goliath." Wow. Purcell Anthems and Songs. Another reminder that between 1964 and 1971 (when these recordings were made) recording technology was very sophisticated. Fabulous singing. There might well some recordings out there of individual pieces by J S Bach that are marginally better, but the quality of the performances overall is stunning. Not to mention the jaw-dropping variety of music on offer. One to cherish.- Stephen Crowe