Leach plays three square grand pianos on these recordings, one of which has just the suggestion of a slight buzz in the low bass. Otherwise they are all very sweet sounding with a clean high and middle register, certainly sweeter sounding than Brautigam’s fortepiano, but every bit as supple. Compared to a baby grand piano the sounding board on a square grand is wider but smaller in area, and the strings are arranged nearly parallel to the keyboard so the instrument can sit close to a wall. Generally the bass strings are a little longer than on a baby grand, rather like those on an upright spinet. These instruments have essentially modern action and pedals, but due to restricted space in the case, a square grand is relatively difficult to work on so very few square grand pianos are currently in playing condition although at one time they were very popular. I was privileged to play the square grand at the Shepard museum in San Diego, California, and was as charmed by the beautiful tone as I was by the attractive wood case. Listened to from across a room, these pianos are quieter in sound than a modern piano; however, with the lid up, directing the sound right at the player, the player would experience a sound at least as loud as on a baby grand piano, and these sonatas were written more to be played personally than to be heard in concert, where, in any case, large instruments would have been available. Therefore, miniaturizing the sound of this music is in my mind a mistake and this performer gives us a strongly projected interpretation.
Leach plays cleanly and affectingly, but with less drama or imagination than Schiff, less sensuality than Ax, and with all the clarity and brilliance, but a little more heart than Brautigam. Adlam’s performance on his own copy of a clavichord of Haydn’s time effectively explores that instrument’s capabilities with imagination and verve. But since neither his instrument nor his technique explore the earlier clavichords’ legendary ability to produce a fluid singing line, one would mostly rather hear this music on a piano.
Leach brings out the similarity in style between Haydn and Schubert in Sonata #51, and I would like to hear her play Schubert. Schiff plays this same sonata with a more Beethovenian sense of drama, and a little more verve; clearly he is a more secure artist, but the music is served extremely well by both performers. Gould’s playing is tyically very staccato and crisp, with his customary and unique kind of energy, and just the suggestion of his usual singing along in the background. It is to Leach’s credit that there is no wide gulf between her playing and these fixtures of the modern virtuoso stage; they could all learn a little something from each other.
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