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.
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
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
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
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.
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!