Gramophone

Joanna Leach devotes 15 tracks to a 1727 spinet by Thomas Barton, five to a 1787 Longman & Broderip square piano, nine to an 1823 Stodart square, and five to an 1832 Clementi square. It is very much a matter of taste, but personally I find the spinet the most rewarding to hear because it isn’t trying to sound like a pianoforte and failing. If square pianos were ever any good, they would still be manufactured today, mass-produced in some factory in South Korea. On the other hand, there is no denying the pleasure of experiencing the music of Mozart, Handel and Schubert in a domestic setting and as it would have been heard in the instruments of the day. All four instruments are pitched at 415Hz with the result that everything sounds a semitone lower than written – so Soler’s Sonata no. 84 in heard in D flat major, Mendelssohn’s Venetian Gondola Song op. 30 no. 6 in F minor, and so on.

Joanna Leach’s playing is intimate, stylish and pleasantly unassuming. Among the many incidental delights are a very rare appearance on disc of Handel’s Fantasia in C, G60, and, in his Air and Variations from Suite no. 1 from the Second Book of Suites (the one Brahms used for his Variations), the sound of Longman & Broderip’s lute stop. But I shall always prefer my Schubert and Mendelssohn on the more expressive grand piano, for here it is hard to tell the difference between a Clementi square and a honky-tonk piano in a saloon bar.

—Jeremy Nicholas