Concert review

Leon McCawley (Piano)

23rd September 2019

Penrith Music Club’s new season began with a recital of the highest quality by Leon McCawley, one of Britain’s foremost pianists. His programme began with Haydn’s Sonata in G, its first movement marked by delicate and sensitive phrasing, and the second sparkling with Haydn’s touches of gentle humour.

Works by four of the giants of 19th century piano music formed the core of the recital. Schubert’s Sonata in C minor, D.958, written at the end of his all-too-short life, is one of his finest and most extended piano works and a worthy successor to the sonatas of the recently-deceased Beethoven. The dramatic power of the opening movement and the tenderness and sensitivity of the following slow movement were both expertly conveyed, as was the galloping “joie de vivre” of the concluding tarantella.

Schumann’s Abegg Variations, op.1, were written only two years after Schubert’s death, at the outset of the composer’s career. The optimism of youth pervades the music and Leon McCawley’s playing brilliantly conveyed the playful and lyrical aspects of this delightful work and its changing moods. Less well known were Hans Gal’s Three Sketches, an attractive group of pieces, approachable and varied in their musical content. These were also the composer’s first published music and had a similarly optimistic and good-humoured approach. Leon McCawley has made a particular feature of performing Hans Gal’s music and the Three Sketches were certainly worth hearing.

Brahms’s Four Klavierstücke, op.119, were his last piano pieces and are a splendid example of the richness of his piano style. The opening three pieces of the group are all Intermezzos, the first based on a haunting opening melody, the second a leisurely and spacious waltz, and the third a stormy Scherzo. This compendium of Brahms’s piano writing was completed by the grandeur of the final Rhapsody, played with great panache and power.

The final work in the programme was Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in Ab major. Spectacular fingerwork, delicate arabesque figures, tender moments of reflection and intense climaxes all feature in Chopin’s huge canvas. Leon McCawley’s authoritative performance of this highly-demanding piece was much appreciated by a discerning audience, who were sent away into the early autumn night with Schumann’s lovely Des Abends as an encore.

Penrith Music Club has a policy of engaging both established musicians and promising younger players. The next concert (on Monday October 21st) will be given by two highly-regarded younger musicians, Kristiana Ignatjeva (cello) and Sten Heinjoya (piano). This, too, should be a concert well worth attending and another great opportunity to hear live Classical music in Penrith.

Colin Marston

Updated on 25th April 2020
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