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Leon McCawley – CD reviews







Schumann – Piano Music
SOMMCD 0134

BBC Music Magazine June 2014

Leon McCawley’s self-effacing musicianship and luminous tonal refinement were evident in his earlier two-disc Schumann set on Avie. Here his expressive directness and unfussily supple phrasing is especially effective…He eschews self-indulgence…yet beneath the surface there is plenty going on, small details of voicing and phrasing and little emphases that speak more on repeated listening. His expressive simplicity in ‘Kind im Einschlummern’, Kinderszenen’s penultimate piece is most touching.
Tim Parry

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International Record Review April 2014

Clarity is the byword here: clarity in every conceivable sense, in terms of texture and sonority, pedalling, tempos and of musical thought. ...Leon McCawley proves a wholly faithful guide to these wonderful works.

There is a tendency for performers to adopt a Romantic style based on freedom of tempo and the full dynamic range attainable on the modern grand and apply this liberally to so much of the nineteenth-century piano repertoire. By contrast, McCawley's approach emphasisizes the Classicism in works which date only from the late 1830s, just ten years after the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert, and a time when Chopin and Liszt were still evolving towards the pivotal figures that they were to become.

The opening of Faschinsschwank aus Wien is performed here perfectly in time and with the arpeggios that span the entire compass of the keyboard wholly audible rather than bathed in pedal as is often the norm. Meanwhile the reflective movements in this programme- so many of them in Kinderszenen- are not indulged with copious rubato, but instead slightly slower speeds than normal allow McCawley to attain no less intimacy. I can't think of more spellbinding and beautiful performances of 'Träumerei' or 'Der Dichter spricht', and McCawley achieves this by the simplest of means, with purity of tone, transparency of voice-leading (in what are frequently string-quartet textures) and with a stable pulse. Where a ritardando marking occurs, McCawley follows Schumann's own indications, which are wholly clear in the text, as to whether these start at the beginning, or halfway through the bar.

This is not to imply any lack of virtuoso approach, and McCawley's technique is a match for any, peerless in the Études Symphoniques, and especially with regards to the articulation of all the staccato markings in the third and ninth Études, and in the fourth Variation and the Finale. That element of control also allows him to achieve a sense of expansive grandeur and to retain beauty of tone even amongst the tumult of the final peroration in the closing pages. There are some fabulous effects too which brings to life, such as the richochet technique in Variation 2, stunning the first note and bouncing off it with an immaculately controlled diminuendo. McCawley includes all of the five Variations that were published posthumously by Brahms in 1873, incorporating them in such a way as to provide (in his own words) 'a welcome contrast to the power and virtuosity of some of the Études or where appropriate adding more energy to the mix'.

This is a fascinating release to which I shall return often. These very familiar works appear as if re-minted, shorn of the accretions which they have acquired over the years, and returned to a rather beguiling simplicity, but one which still tells as much of a tale.
Nicholas Salwey

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Hi Fi News March 2014

The first impression you get with this Schumann CD is what a very clean sound he makes at the keyboard: there's never an ugly attack. More importantly he has a real grasp of the logic behind Schumann's thicket of notes; and some of the simpler motifs (eg. in the 'Carnival Jest') are touchingly presented. He's added the five 'posthumous' Études in places he thinks make the 'jigsaw' complete.
Christopher Breunig

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Birmingham Post 13th February 2014

The plucky independent company SOMM has an enviable reputation for the quality of its releases of piano music, possibly because its director, Siva Oke, is a formidable pianist herself. Among its stable of renowned pianists is Leon McCawley. To his previous issues of Chopin, Barber and Brahms we can now add a magnificent compilation of some of Schumann's finest music for solo piano: Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Kinderszenen and the Etudes Symphoniques. The last-named is particularly impressive, McCawley both nimble and sonorous in this magnificent compendium of musical styles and textures ranging from Bach to Mendelssohn. His subtle, well-judged pedalling is an object-lesson to all, and the piano of this Champs Hill recording studio in Pulborough is clear and responsive. I've always admired the ancient Cortot recording of this masterpiece. McCawley's is its equal in integrity -- and without the wrong notes!
Christopher Morley

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