Gustav Leonhardt, who died in January this year, was a great pioneer in the early music movement – as harpsichordist, organist, conductor and teacher – and he influenced all subsequent musicians in the field whether directly or indirectly. Nicolette Moonen, founder of the Bach Players, was one such musician who, while growing up in Amsterdam, took up the baroque violin inspired by his playing.

The Bach Players are a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists (on period instruments) who explore the music of J.S. Bach and the lesser-known music of his contemporaries and predecessors. Leonhardt had been their Patron and this spring, he was to have given a harpsichord recital as part of their London concert series at St. John’s Downshire Hill in Hampstead, but sadly this was not to be. Instead, last week, the Bach Players gave a concert in memory of this deeply revered musician with a poignant selection of music interspersed by heartwarming tributes from his close friends.

The concert was framed by two cantata settings based on the chorale “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (“What God does, that is done well”), one by Johann Pachelbel (composed c.1683) and the other by J.S. Bach (composed in 1724), and it was striking to observe the change of style in the forty years. The Bach Players have recently been exploring the music of this underrated German composer who is known solely for his Canon, and have demonstrated that he deserves to be heard (several of his works are in their new CD Pachelbel and Bach). Pachelbel’s cantata is a simple but introspective work: it takes the form of variations on the chorale and each stanza is sung by a different combination of the singers. The ensemble is scored for five parts and the Bach Players, playing one to a part, brought out the dark-hued and rich sonority of the middle baroque period.

The next section of the programme was dedicated to the music of Purcell, which Leonhardt loved. If the tenor James Gilchrist’s interpretation of “If music be the food of love” sounded somewhat over-dramatic with too much vibrato, soprano Rachel Elliott gave a touching performance of “O let me forever weep!” and brought out the vivid word-painting. Early in his career, Leonhardt had performed Purcell’s songs with the legendary countertenor Alfred Deller, and between the songs, his son Mark Deller gave a lovely tribute with personal memories of Leonhardt and his father.

After the interval, harpsichordist Silas Wollston performed some French clavecin music by Louis Couperin and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert. He began with Couperin’s Pavane, which, according to the programme, was the work that inspired him to take up the harpsichord. It is an elegiac work in F sharp minor and was played with grace and feeling. The suite in C minor began rather reservedly but the Courante was elegant and the Sarabande had a subtle and restrained beauty. French baroque composers had a wonderful tradition of composing an instrumental “Tombeau” – an elegy – for a patron or teacher, and d'Anglebert's Tombeau for his teacher Mr. de Chambonnières was a fitting choice.

In view of Leonhardt’s contribution to the first complete recording of Bach’s church cantatas on period instruments (jointly with Nikolaus Harnoncourt), it was only fitting to conclude this memorial concert with a Bach cantata. The performance was preceded by Nicholas Anderson’s personal reflections on Leonhardt and the cantata project.

As mentioned above, Bach’s Cantata no. 99, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” is based on the same chorale as Pachelbel’s cantata, but Bach’s style is more varied, taking the form of recitatives, arias and chorus. The tenor aria featured a virtuosic flute solo articulating the text, which was beautifully played by Marion Moonen. The duet was also movingly sung by Rachel Elliott and Sally Bruce-Payne, and the work closed with a simple setting of the original chorale. The music had come full circle and it was a poignant reflection on the life of Gustav Leonhardt.

Memorial concert for Gustav Leonhardt, at St James's Church, PiccadillyNahoko Gotoh reviews a tribute to Gustav Leonhardt from the Bach Players at St. James's Church, Picadilly.