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Leon McCawley

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Leon McCawley press reviews

Birmingham Post April 16th 2010
Solo Recital at Birmingham Town Hall

Two birthday boys were celebrated in BBC Radio 3's Lunchtime Concert from one of the most thoughtful of our young pianists, Leon McCawley.Chopin (who would have been 200 this year) and Samuel Barber, halfway behind him, each contributed a Nocturne and a Sonata to this delightfully compact programme. Barber’s Op.33 Nocturne played dreamy homage to Chopin (and to Grieg), and was mellifluously delivered in McCawley’s well-pedalled tonal colourings. The Chopin C-sharp minor Nocturne, mysterious and searching, held the audience in thrall, with a marked reluctance to break the spell with applause at the end. But the biggest meat came with the sonatas. Chopin’s in B-flat minor emerged as a grisly night-ride, the famous Funeral March an interlude which sat ominously within this context.Strongly sculpted left-hand lines were one of the many strengths of McCawley’s readings.Finally the Barber Sonata (originally redolent of Prokofiev and Scriabin, but eventually finding its own semi-jazzy voice) convinced us as to its strength, busy and engaged, as Leon McCawley fearlessly unravelled its tangled textures.And another bicentenarian gate-crashed proceedings: Schumann, whose Warum? made a soothing encore even I, for once, welcomed.

Rating: 5/5
Christopher Morley March 2nd 2010
Hong Kong Arts Festival Solo Recital at City Hall

When every corner of the world is celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of Chopin’s birth by pianists playing all-Chopin program in their recitals, pianist Leon McCawley intriguingly chose to render works by Chopin and Barber alternatively in his recital on Monday (the later composer is also celebrating his 100th birthday on 9 March).

Mr. McCawley opened the recital by Chopin’s first published set of Mazurkas, the Op. 6...The melodies were so elegantly polished...hardly a colorful harmonic demeanor went by without Mr. McCawley bestowing sensitive touch to it. What followed was Barber’s Nocturne Op. 33. Mr. McCawley’s reading showed more emphasis on the music’s exuberance and ebullience, with a fluent tempo... This was also the case in his account of the following Chopin’s Second Sonata, to which he went on without pause. Again, the Sonata was rendered with whirlwind ebb and flow that reminded us of Argerich-like impetuousness. The scurrying runs in the second movement sometimes even sounded Lisztian. The benign middle section of the Funeral March...came across as a Nocturne with warmth and pliancy.

The second half consisted of two rarely performed piano pieces by Barber, interpolated by a Nocturne of Chopin. The lightheartedness and directness Mr. McCawley possessed seemed more trenchant in Barber’s music. The technical hurdles in the [Barber] Sonata, a showpiece of Horowitz, were also overcome with aplomb. Though Barber’s piano works are not among the mainstream concert repertoire, especially in Hong Kong, Mr. McCawley’s effort of bringing them onto the stage edifying Hong Kong concertgoers was highly commendable. Many other attendees would agree with this. Mr McCawley delivered two classic encore pieces – Schumann’s Dedication (arranged by Liszt) and Chopin’s Minute Waltz, both with a compelling sense of ebullience and vehemence.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui


International Piano May/June 2009
Piano 2009 Manchester/ BBC Radio 3 Discovering Music Series

Leon McCawley gave a tremendous performance of Bach's Partita No. 4 and Busoni's transcription of the Bach Chaconne. In the Partita he took care to enunciate the character of each movement, from the Allemande to the natural lightness of the Gigue. The Chaconne bristled with different textures, and was so full of life and drama that pianist and audience were left breathless.
Cecilia Leung


The Scotsman September 3rd 2007
Edinburgh International Festival with David Pyatt

A Recital for horn and piano appeared an odd way for the Festival to conclude its Queen's Hall series. Saturday's performance, however, by David Pyatt and pianist Leon McCawley was not only a triumph musically, but also a poignant tribute to legendary horn player Dennis Brain, who died 50 years ago to the day in a car accident when returning home from the festival.

Their programme could easily have been a collection of showy pieces. Instead, it was a coherent journey starting with Beethoven's cheerful Sonata in F, written for the most celebrated horn virtuoso of the time, and closing with the delightful, fast-moving Villanelle by Dukas. At the peak were Hindemith's challenging Sonata in F and Poulenc's Elégie, composed in memory of Brain.

Devoid of the splintering notes that loom hazardously for horn players, Pyatt's technique is unbelievably controlled, with a huge range of expressive dynamics. Playing with total integration as a duo, it was equally remarkable that McCawley switched unblinkingly to soloist in exhilarating Chopin and Schumann, giving Pyatt a couple of well-earned breaks.

Carol Main


The Irish Times August 21st 2007
Kilkenny Arts Festival 17th August 2007

On Friday night, pianist Leon McCawley explored the Classical and Romantic concepts of fantasia, via five works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann. The precision at which he excels was not at all at odds with the improvisational freedom essential to pieces such as Beethoven's Sonata in E flat Op 27 No 1 Quasi una fantasia and Chopin's F minor Fantasie. McCawley's deep understanding of the relationship between detail and large-scale design helped make his account of Schumann's Op 17 Fantasie in C especially powerful, full of insight into the inner aspects of a composer who, according to the 19th-century critic Richard Pohl, was always writing "inside himself".
Martin Adams


The Flying Inkpot August 21st 2007
Solo Recital at Chethams's International Music Festival, Manchester

His recital began with a very clean and crystal clear reading of Mozart's Fantasia in C minor K475 which sounded so austere to be almost modern. Beethoven's Sonata quasi una fantasia in E flat major Op. 27 No.1...shone brightly like the nascent morning sun. The hymn tune of the slow movement was beautifully carved out and on its return amid the final movement's busy country-dance, it appeared with the gratefulness of a long lost friend.

McCawley's piece de resistance was Schumann's Fantasy in C major Op. 17. His performance had everything- passion, nostalgia (especially in the Beethoven quotation), lots of technique to burn, and a gorgeous luminous sound, evident in the rapturous first movement. The march of the League of David went forth unimpeded and those horrendous octave leaps at the end posed little trouble. His sense of rubato was excellent in the slow and ruminating finale, bringing a slow but sure boil to the glorious climax- not once but twice. A more spiritual close to the great work could not have been desired.

His two encores were both by Schumann, a perfectly conceived Widmung (in Liszt's transcription) and the vertigo-inducing Traumeswirren (from Fantasiestucke Op. 12). Ronald Stevenson said he had not witnessed such pianism for fifty years, since the days of Mark Hambourg, Who am I to question that assessment?
Chang Tou Liang

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Daily Telegraph May 25th 2007
Brighton Festival May 21st 2007

Leon McCawley gave an absorbing piano recital focusing on fantasies, with Mozart's C minor K475 coupled with Schumann's Drei Phantasiestücke Op 111, Chopin's F minor Fantasie Op 49 and Beethoven's E flat Sonata Op 27 No 1, Quasi una fantasia.

With his characteristic poise and concentration, McCawley's playing reflected and enhanced the spontaneous invention of these pieces, one idea leading naturally to another, but with a shapeliness of structure and a dynamism of interpretation that gave the discourse both coherence and eloquence of expression.
Geoffrey Norris