On a quiet autumnal morning on Holywell St, yellow sycamore leaves patterning the steps leading up to the hall, the 24 year old Hungarian pianist Daniel Lebhardt played three works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, repeating the programme he had fulfilled two days previously at the Barber Institute in Birmingham.
We began with Bach's Italian Concerto in F major, 'Italian' standing for 'in the Italian style', in this instance inspired by Vivaldi concertos. Bach composed this for the double-keyboarded harpsichord, with the intention of mimicking to some degree different orchestral instruments. The opening is in ritornello ('a little item that repeats') form, much used by the composer. Mr Lebhardt employed precise yet sprightly passagework and crisp articulation both here and in the concluding presto. In the middle andante I thought I noticed a couple of nods to the famous Air on the G String, composed around the same time. This movement has a sombre grandeur, and Mr Lebhardt, adhering faithfully to the marked tempo, brought out the melodic line floating atop the bass. Audience member Katherine O'Donnell from Dublin expressed to me her appreciation of the emotional charge of this movement.
Next came the revelation of the concert, Thomas Ades' Darknesse Visible of 1992, after 400 years a re-working of one of the 16th/17th court composer John Dowland's songs for a duo (lutenist and singer), In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell.
In darknesse let mee dwell; the ground shall sorrow be,
The roof despair, to bar all cheerful light from me.....
In the Bach, the soloist's hands had almost always remained within the central third of the keyboard range. Now, from the very first notes, Mr Lebhardt's hands mined the extremities, both treble and bass, constantly crossing hands, stretching, pausing, twiddling fingers for the little trills. The programme notes referred to Dowling's characteristic melancholy; he composed in the era of John Donne and his metaphysical colleagues. I was unable to detect this undercurrent, finding it instead a surprisingly melodic piece of impressionism with nods to Debussy; muted in volume, a little jerky in tempo. I just loved this piece, and how frustrating that it ends after a mere six minutes or so, leaving me, like Oscar Wilde, exquisitely unsatisfied.
Beethoven's Sonata no 32 in C minor from 1822 is the composer's adieu to this form of music, and remarkable for its anticipation of musical trends in popular music a century later - jazz-like rhythms in the andante, and a little earlier, did I detect a hint of ragtime? Mr Lebhardt took the opening breakneck passages with suppressed energy, playing concert-long from memory - he told me afterwards that he finds the presence of a score on the music rack and of a page turner a bit of an irritant. I found his presence at the keyboard impressive in its stillness and lack of facial expression, forming an external impression of calm, though he told me he was seething internally. He stepped up the tempo through the variations of the adagio, and when he reached the prolonged trills heralding the 5th variation, he injected into them a bell-like shimmer.
It's just nine months since Mr Lebhardt made his debut at the Holywell Music Room. On this showing the next lacuna must not be so long.
P.S.John Dowland is a popular, even cult figure for both Sting and Elvis Costello, and also for Philip K. Dick, the sci-fi writer, who has more than once assumed the nom de plume Jack Dowland!