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Leon McCawley – Reviews

Concerto performances





 


Recitals

Classical Source March 1st 2016
Wigmore Hall Solo Recital March 1st 2016

Every time in this excellent Wigmore Hall recital when I thought I’d nailed the main, generating aspect of Leon McCawley’s style, he’d confound expectations. His seemingly ascetic, self-contained persona would deftly step aside to allow comedy, fantasy and passion to hold the floor, on the back of a disarmingly profound and mercurial virtuosity, and his playing just sounded right.

Take Haydn’s Sonata in C, one of his late London works, which seems tailored to a particularly English sense of mischief. McCawley opened it properly enough, but soon the first movement was poking its nose into downright anarchy. The pianist’s engagement with the cut and thrust of musical dialogue quickly developed into a masterpiece of imagination and control, manifested in all those teasing pauses, swells of exaggeration and sexy decorations. Particularly in the Keyboard Sonatas, I’ve been amazed by the games Haydn plays and by his elaborate system of checks and balances, and McCawley was every bit equal to the broader plan as much as to the crazily articulate detail. His playing gave little away to ‘period’ manners, but his use of pedal, his variety of touch and his sharp-witted response to the highways and byways of Haydn’s sublime good humour guaranteed delight.

McCawley’s most recent recording (on the Somm label) is of the Rachmaninov Preludes, and his choice of three from the Opus 23 set gave a good idea of his late-romantic sympathies – you were aware both of the considerable craft of his playing and of the generosity of feeling. He drew reserves of richness and colour from the piano for the grandeur of No. 4, and the ‘Alla marcia’ of No.5 came with extra military bite. The fortissimos weren’t always the most beautiful sound, but there was no doubt how close McCawley is to the veil of Rachmaninov's emotional complexity.

You don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface of much of Mendelssohn’s music to discern a barely contained anxiety, which McCawley exploited to great effect in Variations sérieuses, composed as a homage to Beethoven. Even by Mendelssohn’s standards, it’s a technically demanding work, and McCawley unfolded the accumulative elaboration of the Variations in a seamless flow of music that hovers in the slipstream of both Bach and Beethoven. You could hear how the piano figuration defers to Beethoven, sometimes at his most angular, and develops it without excess but with a great deal of accumulative pressure, played by McCawley with majestic security.

His range of colour was a dominant factor in his reading of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, launched with a very Schumann-like yearning quality in the First of the set. There was a hauntingly lifeless tone to the accompaniment of the Second that prepared the ear for the range of characterisation he brought to all 24, and, however familiar they may be, McCawley’s approach gave the sequence a fresh sense of inevitability. He allowed the longer Preludes to expand in a way that gave added substance to the shorter ones, he didn’t overplay rubato or the moments of grandiose oratory, and his virtuosity was both easy and primarily a vehicle of expression. It’s a long time since I heard such a cohesively planned and executed account. McCawley returned to Rachmaninov for his encore, the Fifth Prelude from Opus 32.
Peter Reed


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Washington Post November 17th 2014
Solo Recital at Phillips Collection, Washington DC

A performance this weekend by British pianist Leon McCawley was another strong offering in the Phillips Collection’s excellent Sunday concert series…McCawley is a thoughtful, lyrical pianist, and he played everything with erudition, imagination and fastidiousness.

McCawley’s simplicity, which concealed great art, was an object lesson in the myriad ways a fine pianist can create the illusion of tone color — the weight and voicing of chords, the balance between the two hands, pedaling, dynamic control and, above all, phrasing. When those elements work together, the ear is cosseted and coddled and the listener begins to conflate artistic beauty with an imaginary tonal beauty. From the opening bars of a Beethoven trifle — variations on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” — McCawley showed his grasp of this interplay.

McCawley took further care with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5, where strict counting created a bracing effect. He next played Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, which, juxtaposed with the gentle Mendelssohn miniatures, was jarring. But the piece was perhaps the highlight of the recital, with sizzling virtuosity at the end of the middle section and in the coda.

The “Petrarch Sonnet 123” again showed off McCawley’s ability to create the illusion of actual song. And the three-part supplement to “Venezia e Napoli” was vividly imaginative, from the spraying fountains of “Gondoliera” to the brooding menace of the “Canzone” (based on “Othello”) to the exuberance and flouncing skirts of the “Tarantelle,” the fast, repeated notes dazzling.
Robert Battey


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Birmingham Post October 9th 2014
Solo Recital at Artrix, Bromsgrove

Bromsgrove Concerts’ new season opened with a visit from one of our foremost pianists, Leon McCawley, in a highly satisfying programme of the core classical repertoire.

McCawley is a mature and self­-possessed artist‚ whose playing is an intriguing balance of delicacy, detail and drama, and although everything was carefully considered, a feeling of spontaneity permeated the evening.

After the opening Beethoven Variations on a theme of Paisiello (one of many Italian connections throughout his recital), we heard a crisp and dramatic performance of Beethoven’s Sonata op. 10/1, an abrupt and dark opening, a poised warm and glowing slow movement, like an inspired improvisation, and a finale full of wit and edge of the seat timing.

Three elegant Mendelssohn Songs without words received no less care, beautifully shaped within a deliberately restricted dynamic range. It was after the interval that McCawley’s muscular technique was allowed its freest expression.

Four Rachmaninov Preludes received aristocratic, magisterial performances; foreground effortlessly separated from background amid the torrent of notes, and as impressive as the climaxes were, even more so was the subsequent gradual descent from passion to reflection.

The highlight was Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet 123. Rapt, still music, with its pre-echoes of the love music from Tristan. I am temperamentally allergic to the over-insistent rhetoric and crowd-pleasing aspects of some of Liszt’s work, and so I found it odd to hear such a fastidious artist apply his Apollonian gifts to the Dionysian bombast and acrobatics of the finale – Venezia e Napoli. Even here McCawley couldn’t help but find purely musical solutions to the many pictorial challenges in the piece, ranging from the dark and sinister ripples of Venezia, to the repeated note mandolin impressions and more, in the astonishing pianistic feats of the final Tarantella. Premeditated yet daredevil playing.*****
John Gough


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The Cross-Eyed Pianist March 7th 2014
Solo Recital at St. Peter's Eaton Square, March 6th 2014

McCawley gave an energetic account of the first movement [Beethoven Sonata Op. 10/1], its dark and angular opening sentence contrasted with a lyrical second subject, the entire movement crisply articulated with fine attention to the string quartet and orchestral writing and startling dynamic changes. The middle movement offered a respite from the darkly- hued outer movements. Scored in warm-hearted A -flat major, it was an opportunity to enjoy some fine legato playing. The final movement was a burst of nervous energy, only just held in check by McCawley, which allowed him to highlight not only the dramatic possibilities inherent in Beethoven’s writing, but also the composer’s wit: the movement ends with a slower coda and a final sentence which is almost a whisper.

In the Songs Without Words by Mendelssohn there was further opportunity to enjoy McCawley’s exceptionally fine legato playing. Beloved of Victorian salons, Mendelssohn invented the concept of the Lieder Ohne Worte, and produced eight volumes of these varied and lyrical miniatures. McCawley’s selection of just three from the Opp 38, 19 and 30 was intimate, expressive and poignant.

Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies Op 79 closed the first half of the evening, McCawley giving free rein to the climactic nature of these works and capitalising on the rich bass sonorities of the piano. It also set the scene for the Rachmaninov which followed after the interval.

Rachmaninov was following the precedent set by Chopin’s Preludes, and his two sets Op 23 and 32 complete the twenty four. In the Op 32 set, Rachmaninov uses four pairs of parallel keys (E, F A and B, major/minor) but no relative keys. Each Prelude opens with a tiny melodic or rhythmic fragment on which the whole is built. Alert to the contrasting and varied nature of these short works, McCawley gave an account that was committed and emotionally charged, highlighting both the expansiveness of Rachmaninov’s writing as well as the interior details of each piece.

What better way to close than with an encore of Schumann’s Traumerei, tenderly delivered.

Full review at: http://crosseyedpianist.com/2014/03/07/leon-mccawley-at-eaton-square/
Frances Wilson


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This is Wiltshire March 7th 2014
Solo Recital at Wiltshire Music Centre

Pianist's driving, sensitive and brilliant performance at Wiltshire Music Centre

McCawley, undemonstrative...has a driving, almost relentless style...Then came the Thirteen Preludes of Rachmaninov: monumental, almost fearsome; quite an epic of supreme concentration and sustained brilliance.
Reg Burnard


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Seen and Heard International January 11th 2013
Solo Recital at Wigmore Hall, London

An Excellent and Varied Recital from Leon McCawley

Since winning first prize at the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna, Leon McCawley has released a series of critically acclaimed recordings (most recently of piano music by Brahms), and I was delighted to see that he opted to play one of the works from that disc at this concert.

McCawley opened the evening’s very diverse proceedings with Bach’s perennially popular Italian Concerto, which was published in 1735. The opening Allegro (there is no tempo marking in the score but it is fairly clear that the movement is an Allegro) was brisk and light with McCawley demonstrating a nice variety of touch and excellent articulation. The central andante was played in a simple and unaffected way and the decorated right hand line was elegantly delineated... The sparkling presto finale was playful and inventive with McCawley clearly on top of the fleet-fingered passagework and bringing energy and buoyancy to the contrapuntal exchanges.

Brahms’ Op 39 Waltzes are not played as often as they should be on the concert platform and it is great to see a pianist of McCawley’s stature championing these pieces. The programme notes reminded us that Brahms was a great admirer of Johann Strauss and the Op 39 Waltzes are influenced both by his waltzes and those of Schubert. McCawley kept the opening waltz light and graceful, successfully setting the scene for an evening of easy Viennese charm. The cradle song waltz in E major was played with real warmth and tenderness with McCawley giving us some beautifully tapered phrasing. The bubbling scherzo waltz in C sharp was played with infectious effervescence while the D minor was suitably nostalgic and elegiac. There was some highly expressive and richly layered playing throughout the set with McCawley keen to make the most of Brahms’ inner voices and rich harmonic progressions. The famous penultimate waltz in A flat was played with beguiling charm and delicacy before McCawley brought the set to an end with a probing and insightful performance of the final waltz.

The first half concluded with Chopin’s scherzo in C sharp minor which the composer wrote in 1839. McCawley perfectly captured the sense of disquiet in the opening and the ensuing stormy double octave passage was dispatched with aplomb. The arpeggio figurations linking the chorale theme were feathery light while the virtuoso coda was executed with brilliance and panache.

The second half of the concert opened with three works from diverse composers all trying to depict the sound of bells. McCawley brought out the impressionistic elements in the Liszt and did a splendid job in drawing in the listener and depicting the dramatic arc and narrative of the piece. There was a vivid and imaginative range of colours, textures and sonorities in the Debussy and some excellent layering of sound. Rachmaninov’s Étude-tableau was probably inspired by Scriabin’s funeral in Moscow in 1915 and it is a rather stark and brooding piece. McCawley brought out nicely the tone painting and elegiac qualities of the work.

The degree of technical finish and attention to detail was uniformly excellent throughout this recital but McCawley’s performance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ variations was the highlight for me. He nailed the deadpan wit and humour of the opening and used a wide range of tone colour to bring out the dramatic contrasts. The bustle and voicing of the material was superb with McCawley showing an excellent understanding of the motivic relationships and underlying musical structure – some of the unexpected harmonic twists and turns sounded completely fresh-minted and came as a genuine surprise. As the variations progressed, the audience became increasingly caught up in the infectious fun, vivid characterisation and rag bag of surprises. The embroidered figurations in the largo variation were beautifully controlled while the contrapuntal textures and voicing were deftly handled. This was a glorious finish to a highly enjoyable concert.

As an encore McCawley gave a rapt and poetically nuanced performance of Schumann’s ‘Des Abends’.
Robert Beattie


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Bachtrack January 10th 2013
Solo Recital at Wigmore Hall

McCawley...seamlessly combines flawless technique and versatility with immaculate presentation and musical integrity, and a calm, self-possessed stage presence, never more evident than in this programme, which contrasted the mannered elegance of Bach with the romanticism of Chopin, the impressionism of Liszt, Debussy and Rachmaninov, and the wit and humour of Beethoven.

*****

Read the full review at: http://www.bachtrack.com/review-wigmore-hall- leon-mccawley-bach-rachmaninov
Frances Wilson


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Birmingham Post 23rd November 2012
Solo Recital at Artrix, Bromsgrove

This country is blessed with a generation of pianists who have moved seamlessly from young lionhood to wise experience, and right at the top of that list is Leon McCawley.

Returning to Bromsgrove Concerts with a brilliantly-constructed recital, he began with the all-important "Bernstein moment" (catching the only instant when a performance can be launched) before he embarked upon an eloquent, crisp and totally engaging account of Bach's Italian Concerto, gleefully relishing its finger- twisting part-writing, and rapt in the darkly emotional andante.

Brahms' Op. 39 16 Waltzes were delivered with character, charm, warm pedalling, telling bass lines emerging from well-sculpted textures and a sensitive shaping of dynamics.

Then came the heroism of Chopin's Scherzo no.3, McCawley's controlled intensity enhanced by rippling figurations. This was a reading which focussed our attention entirely upon this wonderful piece.

Three bell-inspired compositions followed, Liszt and Debussy, ending with Rachmaninov, whose C minor Etude-Tableau cast such a sinister, quasi-liturgical atmosphere. And again, McCawley's precise articulation and tactful pedalling provided such a persuasive presence.

All of these were riches enough, but the concluding offering would in itself have made the evening worthwhile. Beethoven's Eroica Variations (such an important work in the composer's own psyche) found a fabulous advocate in McCawley, witty, affectionate, well-coloured, and, where necessary, played with an unflashy panache which never distracted from the music. If McCawley hasn't already recorded this piece, then some company must sign him up so to do.

*****
Christopher Morley


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Bachtrack.com May 8th 2012
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital from Wigmore Hall

Schumann’s Carnaval...was played with warmth, richness, wit, tenderness and, at times, poignancy, suffused with intelligence and understanding, though the rambunctiousness of the party, and the foot-tapping melodies of the carnaval were never far away.

Full review at: http://www.bachtrack.com/review-leon-mccawley-wigmore-hall-lunchtime
Frances Wilson


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International Piano July/August 2011
Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas at King's Place

Leon McCawley gave a marathon performance of Mozart's complete sonatas. There's absolutely no vanity in his playing, which is bright, clean and unfailingly communicative. In his hands, the Mozartian oeuvre emerged with striking vividness. He brought out the sonatas' hints of chamber music and opera with delightful ease and grace.
Michael Church


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Bachtrack.com April 19th 2011
Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas at King's Place (Concert 2)

The recital was full of contrasts, not only those afforded by Mozart's dynamic markings or articulation, or those created by the different moods of the sonatas reflecting the events in his life. On each repeated section McCawley cast the repeat in a different light - warmer and more expansive, brighter in the decoration, or drawing out a different aspect of the music. Where individual phrases echoed each other, or answered each other, they would receive subtly different characterisation, creating a constant sense of living dialogue within the music.

Full review at: http://www.bachtrack.com/review-leon-mccawley-kings-place
Megan Beynon


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Bachtrack.com April 18th 2011
Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas at King's Place (Concert 4)

In McCawley’s skilful hands, Mozart sparkled, playful and elegant, vivacious and witty, inventive and fresh. Coupled with flawless technique, McCawley’s readings are neither overly romantic, nor too fragile. He lends seriousness where it is due, a delightful intimacy, or an orchestral richness, while also standing back to allow the music to speak for itself. This was exceptional Mozart-playing of the highest quality. Full review at: http://www.bachtrack.com/review-leon-mccawley-plays-mozart
Frances Wilson


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Guardian December 3rd 2010
Solo Recital at Queen Elizabeth Hall (International Piano Series)

Samuel Barber's centenary could have been the opportunity for audiences to explore beyond the composer's popular Adagio, Knoxville and Violin Concerto. But it is December of the anniversary year now, and Barber has mostly been a road not taken.

Double honour, therefore, to Leon McCawley for programming Barber as the climax of his Southbank piano recital and for proving that Barber's 1949 Piano Sonata deserves a more secure place in the repertoire too.

Wagner said that Brahms's Handel variations, which McCawley played before the interval, showed what could still be done with old forms by someone who knew how to use them. Much the same could be said of Barber's sonata, with its taut and well organised four-movement structure and its very Brahmsian use of a passacaglia and fugue. McCawley's playing, lithe and clear, was well-suited to bringing out the piece's architecture. His controlled virtuosity was a delight, too, especially in the second movement's light touch scampers. Earlier, McCawley gave an equally fascinating display of Barber's ability to adapt his lyric voice to the piano's demands in the 1955 Nocturne, a tribute to John Field.

It said a lot about McCawley's artistry that he was able to begin his recital by drawing the listener so immediately into the restrained and mysterious sound world of Janácek's In the Mist. The Brahms variations followed, played with an unusually light and athletic touch...but nevertheless gathered momentum for the towering fugal conclusion. Chopin's Four Impromptus, often dismissed as salon pieces and rarely played as a group, completed an uncommonly interesting programme. Each follow an original path and the sinuous modulations of the F sharp impromptu were particularly beguilingly played.
Martin Kettle


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Birmingham Post November 26th 2010
Solo Recital at Artrix, Bromsgrove

Leon McCawley is an artist of great pianistic and interpretative gifts, and one of his attractive qualities is his unassuming manner. There was nothing in his body language to suggest the enormous technical difficulties of his programme but the results were riveting.

Only a virtuoso of the highest class can hope to make a success of Brahms’ Handel Variations and that was what we heard here. The theme was laid out in the best Handelian style but thereafter all was completely Brahmsian, beautifully shaped and romantic, with well-planned contrasts between successive variations, scintillating octaves, crisp rhythms, and a wide range of tone colours and dynamics. Everything thought out so that the final fugue was a natural culmination to the classical shape of the work.

Poetic and deliciously insouciant performances of Chopin’s Four Impromptus followed, with nothing over-emphasised, Chopin’s subtlety allowed to emerge naturally rather than be underlined.

Barber’s Piano Sonata is a brilliant and bravura showpiece...watching it being performed with such élan and mastery was an amazing spectacle. After storms of applause, calm was restored with two soothing encores.
John Gough


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Daily Telegraph September 14th 2010
Recital at North Norfolk Festival

The other serious pleasure of the weekend was pianist Leon McCawley playing Janáček and Samuel Barber. Barber is his current project – he’s about to record all the solo piano music. And there aren’t many pianists on this side of the Atlantic honouring the composer’s centenary (born 1910) so conscientiously or so impressively.

The Barber sonata is a big piece, and maybe it could have done with a heavy-duty Steinway rather than the Bluthner that the festival supplied. But it was still superbly played, with brilliance and bravura – as was the Mozart Concerto K449 that McCawley played the night before [with the Carducci Quartet].
Michael White


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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


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ConcertoNet.com 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


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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


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

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


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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


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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


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BBC Somerset Live May 1st 2007
Two Moors Festival

Immediately, one realised that the pianist, Leon McCawley, is probably one of the very best young British pianists around today. McCawley obviously relished the wide dynamic range, colour and tone he could produce on this piano, and he has tremendous interpretive skills and is immensely musical.
Angela Boyd


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Musical Opinion November/December 2006
Rye Festival September 16th 2006

On 16 September Rye's St Mary's Church hosted pianist Leon McCawley who had been specifically asked by 2005 Festival goers to return this year. His capacity audience already knew that he is a deep feeling musician who plays because he enjoys the music and his craft and appreciated his fine sense of eloquence and expression which reigned freely in Mozart's D major Sonata K311. Schubert's A minor Sonata D537 followed, during which I could sense Schubert's approving presence in the Church. Hans Gál's Suite Opus 24, with which I was unfamiliar, opened with a sound reminiscent of Debussy and closed more akin to Stravinsky.

McCawley closed the evening with the second and eighth of Rachmaninov's Étude-Tableaux Opus 39 and the Variations on a Theme of Corelli, making a lustrous sound that flowed around the church and blessed the ears receiving it. Try and hear him if you can, you won't be disappointed.
Judith Monk


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New York Times October 10th 2006
The Frick Collection, New York

The room's reverberant acoustics highlighted the eloquently full-blooded approach of Leon McCawley, the 33-year-old British Pianist, Curtis graduate and multiple competition laureate, who made his New York recital debut on Sunday at the Frick.

Mr. McCawley began his program with a spirited and almost romantic reading of Mozart's Sonata in D (K. 311) with long expressive phrases and a liberal use of rubato. [In Schubert's Sonata in A minor], Mr McCawley...emphasised the harmonic shifts and contrasting moods in a lyrical, heartfelt performance.

After intermission Mr McCawley spoke briefly about Hans Gál-an Austrian Jewish composer whom he has championed and recorded. Mr. Gál's Suite for Piano (1924) is an instantly appealing work ... Mr. McCawley deftly contrasted the varied textures and harmonies.

Mr McCawley concluded his program with Rachmaninoff: first a poetic and mystical account of the Étude-Tableaux (Op. 39, Nos. 2 and 8), followed by a probing and virtuosic reading of Variations on a Theme of Corelli. Mr McCawley explored the variations on the majestic theme, ranging from languid to powerful, with sensitivity and style. The listener, meanwhile, was enveloped in an acoustical cocoon of bright, passionate sound.
Vivien Schweitzer


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Daily Telegraph May 11 2006
Leon McCawley and Emperor Quartet at Brighton Festival

Mozart was represented by the G major Piano Sonata, K283, played with fine focus by McCawley, Shostakovich by a searchingly intense account of his Seventh String Quartet, and Schumann by that apogee of Romantic chamber music, his Piano Quintet, here played with uncommon commitment and vitality.
Matthew Rye


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The Cumberland News March 10th 2006
Recital at St. Andrew's Church, Penrith

Rare player meets rare work

Leon McCawley, runner-up in the 1993 Leeds International Piano competition and one of Britain’s most prominent young pianists, was the guest in this penultimate concert of the current season.

The first half consisted of two sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, each played with consummate artistry. Leon’s performance of Mozart’s Sonata in F, K.332, offered an authenticity rarely heard in modern performances, persuading with poetry and understatement in the opening movement, the most delicate of ornamentation in the slow movement and the most flirtatious of touches to the sparkling semiquavers of the finale. Beethoven’s Sonata in E flat, Op. 22 is a work of greater dramatic proportions. Again, understatement was the key to the performance: dramatic moments certainly, but also an invitation to discover so many of the subtleties of Beethoven’s style.

The second half began with a rare opportunity to hear the first book of Janacek’s On an Overgrown Path. The music looks back to experiences in the composer’s early life and there are some delightful miniatures, such as the fussy, gossipy textures of They Chatted Like Swallows and the nostalgia of Our Evenings. Other movements, however, are more soul-searching. Unutterable Anguish describes the death of his young daughter Olga with a real pain and desolation. Next were the cascading scales, ornamented melodic passages and dramatic intensity of Chopin’s Scherzo No.4 in E. Two encores – Hans Gal’s evocative Melody and Poulenc’s quirky Toccata – sent the audience home convinced they had heard one of the best and most stylish piano recitals at the club in recent years.
Colin Marston


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South Florida Sun-Sentinel May 17 2005
Miami International Piano Festival May 14 2005

McCawley's rare artistry lifts Miami Piano Festival

English pianist Leon McCawley achieved international prominence in 1993 when he won first prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and second prize at the Leeds Competition. He has appeared as a soloist with orchestras throughout England, and with the Dallas and Minnesota orchestras in the U.S.

On Saturday the Miami International Piano Festival afforded local audiences the opportunity of assessing this artist at the Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach. McCawley's appearance as part of the Discovery Series conjured up memories of the late pianist Clifford Curzon. Instead of trying to knock us over the head with his admirable technique, McCawley -- like Curzon -- concentrated on the musical values of his program and accomplished what many pianists strive for but few have the musicianship to achieve.

Mozart was represented by both his Fantasy in C minor, K. 475, and his Sonata K. 457 in the same key. Each was lovingly phrased and presented a range of dynamics that demonstrated McCawley's total comfort with the music.

The 13 childhood memories that inspired Schumann's beloved Kinderscenen have a refined lyricism, and here McCawley's attention to phrasing made for a ravishing experience. Even in the faster passages his control held things fully in check, and his immaculate pedaling enabled the music to speak without blurring.

Four sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti were well chosen and deftly contrasted. McCawley's freshness and crispness of execution helped to erase any thoughts of the harpsichord for which they were originally composed.

If without the heart-on-sleeve lyricism typical of Rachmaninoff, his rarely performed Variations on a Theme of Corelli present plenty of opportunity for pianists to flex their muscles. McCawley rose to the challenge and delivered torrents of sound to contrast with the refinement of the rest of his program. Yet nothing was pushed, and nothing fell below the high threshold of taste and good judgment.
Alan Becker


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South Florida Entertainment News and Views May 17 2005
Miami International Piano Festival May 14 2005

England’s Leon McCawley took center stage on May 14 and offered an evening of sensitive, deeply felt music making. McCawley’s patrician musicianship and elegant pianism were indeed special. The strong profile and florid musical line that he brought to Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor was mesmerizing. In Schumann’s lovely Kinderscenen, McCawley displayed supple lyricism and delicately sculpted phrasing. McCawley played Mozart’s Sonata in C Minor with brisk, classical precision. The Adagio sang from his keyboard like a finely spun operatic aria.

McCawley’s traversal of four sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti pulsated with rhythmic life. His lithe phrasing, idiomatic fluency and pianistic brilliance made this thrice familiar music sound new and vibrant. In Rachmaninoff’s awesome Variations on a Theme of Corelli, McCawley commanded fervent power and wonderful romantic coloration. Here was artistry of the highest order. McCawley is a great and unique musician!
Lawrence Budmen


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Daily Telegraph 7 May 2005
Classical: The Choice (Preview to QEH recital)

Leon McCawley is a pianist for whom the word "eloquent" could have been coined, combing as he does a wonderful sense of style with a discreetly telling manner of musical interpretation.
Geoffrey Norris


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Independent 3 May 2005
Preview of Queen Elizabeth Hall solo recital

There are many reasons for attending Leon McCawley's recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday- quite apart from the fact that he's the only Brit in the South Bank International Piano Series. Those who have heard him in concert- and he's starting to loom large in the pianistic firmament- will know what dependable pleasures he purveys; those who have heard his Schumann recordings on the Avie label will be familiar with his uniquely measured musicality. He's only 31, but his playing has the mature wisom of a man twice his age...
Michael Church


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Birmingham Post 28th November 2003
Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

All the composers featured in this Barber Celebrity Concert were familiar, but certainly not all of the music. When a slightly off-centre selection is on offer, it is often only too obvious why the chosen items are less frequently performed. However, Leon McCawley’s carefully balanced programme, giving a rounded insight into more unusual pianistic gems from the greats, was indeed a joy.

With numerous prestigious prizes and international appearances under his belt, here is a young pianist to treasure. His quiet, unassuming manner belies his passion for and his obvious love of the music in his care.

There were smiles all round for an exquisitely lucid Bach Partita: No 5 in G. His flawless technique delivered quicksilver runs, intelligent and charming clarity in all part-playing and a complex Gigue in which a hair-raising double fugue posed no apparent problems. A truly superb accomplishment.

Chopin’s Mazurkas Op 24 were four thought-provoking refined dances, teasing the imagination with differing modes, sensuous poignant rubatos, and a final gossamer cadence left hanging in the air.

Beautiful tone is paramount for this pianist. Meaty chords are firmly centred, melodies delight with a pearly lustre. Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses encompassed every mood, from sparkling high-stepping staccatos, to luminous singing cantabile.

The youthful Schumann’s curious Papillons are charming, short, contrasting waltzes, played with clean-cut precision and imagination.

All the “juicy bits” were there in the original of Rachmaninov’s formidable Sonata No 2, sweeping romanticism, with seamless torrents of virtuoso Slavic outpourings. A well-earned “Bravo”, indeed.
Maggie Cotton


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The Birmingham Post/05 May 2003
Leamington Festival
Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington


The theme of this year's Leamington Festival was Vienna, where Leon McCawley began Saturday afternoon's memorable piano recital with Beethoven's Variations on God Save the King.

The quality of the magnificent Steinway instrument showed immediately in McCawley's crisp, well-rounded announcement of the Anthem, his witty, affectionate treatment of Beethoven's subsequent variations a continual delight.

Lightness of ornamentation and an exuberant, almost improvisatory approach followed in Haydn's E minor Sonata, its directness a world away from the tortured, febrile outpourings of the engrossing Sonata by Alban Berg, the last great Viennese sonata to travel the world.

McCawley paced the events of its single movement with persuasive sensitivity, and concluded with an absolutely triumphant Beethoven A major Sonata, Op. 101, where pearly chording combined with Handelian grandeur to create an experience which will not easily be forgotten.
Christopher Morley


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Musical Opinion/December 2001
Ryedale Festival, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall University of York / 17 July 2001

Leon McCawley first attracted our attention as runner-up in the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1993, as much for his personal as for his musical qualities. Beethoven and Barber were given prominence in his recital at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall in the University of York on 17 July. The brittle Allegro of Barber's Excursions, his subtle Blues rhythms and the brilliant trumpet-like interjections during the finale all made their mark convincingly.

Beethoven's Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 was distinguished by a varied touch, brilliant articulation, unforced drama, a deeply thoughtful Adagio and the beauty of McCawley's tone throughout the whole work. To Chopin's 24 Preludes, McCawley brought an astonishingly wide range of pianism. Not for him a kid-gloved effeminacy. Through a succession of contrasting moods he still managed to establish a relationship between its components. The concluding D minor Prelude was truly a tour de force.


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Philadelphia Inquirer 15th February 2000
Alumni Recital Series Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia

Leon McCawley was the latest arrival, playing a recital of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Prokofiev on Sunday afternoon at the Curtis Institute of Music, his alma mater….

McCawley dedicated his recital to Eleanor Sokoloff, his teacher at Curtis who has been assigning etudes and sonatas to pianists at the school since 1936. McCawley, 26, uses physical signals to help convey his emotional intent. Shoulders go up in passages of anticipation, head pops upward with a smile when the music turns euphoric. But look away, and the full-blooded expressiveness remains fully evident in sound as well.

McCawley makes the music his own without straying too far from performance tradition. One of the nicest touches he brought to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in C minor (Op. 13), the Pathetique, was the use of silence. He used it to solve transitions that seem like traps for awkwardness to other pianists. He brought astonishing clarity and speed to Beethoven’s Six Variations in F Major (Op. 34).

In Chopin’s Nocturne (Op. 27, No. 1), McCawley avoided making too much of the rubato possibilities, opting for a cleaner, more straightforward account. Likewise his approach to the Op. 27, No 2, which he used as an encore - accepting applause for just moments before turning it back to Sokoloff, who sat proudly in one of the last rows of Curtis Hall.
Peter Dobrin


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Concerto performances

La Nueva España (Diario Independente de Asturias) 22nd January 2017
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Manuel López-Gómez at Auditorío Principe Felipe, Oviedo

In this programme we got to know Leon McCawley, considered today a poet of the keyboard. He is pure lyricism. He gave us Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3, a complete change of style in the years of the composer’s deafness. The restful movement, “Largo”, provided the groundwork for a wide spectrum of ‘expression’ from the soloist. It was the last movement that ‘overwhelmed’ me, with such contrast and inventiveness. To sum up, this was a journey of sensitivity…the feature of the soloist’s work with the orchestra and with the young director, Manuel López-Gómez, was one of stability and balance.
Diana Díaz


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La Nueva España (Gijón) 22nd January 2017
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Manuel López-Gómez at Teatro Jovellanos, Gijón

Soloist Leon McCawley appeared on stage to give us the Piano Concerto No 3 [Beethoven], that in its conception leads us along a romantic path. There was a long introduction from the orchestra but when it came to McCawley, he demonstrated to the audience his mastery of the classic/romantic field of music. With his first entrance, McCawley brought a special feeling to the main theme, managing to achieve an exceptional expressiveness while maintaining the narrative. He chose a lightness of character in the Classical style, à la Mozart, notably in the extensive solos that close the ‘Allegro con Brio’. McCawley was the absolute protagonist in the ‘Largo’, filled as it is with romantic and subtle ‘dialogues’ with the orchestra, achieved by playing and blending the notes in an almost imperceptible way. The final Rondo was an example of order and elegance for which McCawley received an ovation for his rôle. He gave the audience an added bonus with Schubert’s Moment Musical.
E.V.


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El Comercio, Asturias 21st January 2017
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Manuel López-Gómez at Teatro Jovellanos, Gijón

The day before yesterday, in the Jovellanos Theatre with an inspired orchestra and with the piano soloist, Leon McCawley, this was a passionate and poetic Beethoven [Piano Concerto No. 3], full of energy and rhythm. McCawley is a pianist with a very lyrical and poetic touch, almost transparent and precise. McCawley also interpreted Schubert’s well-known Moment Musical in F Minor and in his performance there were delicious ‘mordents’.
Ramón Avello


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La Nueva España Digital 21st January 2017
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Manuel López-Gómez at Auditorío Principe Felipe, Oviedo

The pianist was Leon McCawley, a Briton who plays without using any artificial ‘tricks’ and for this reason he has gained his international fame. His interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor was distinguished by its purity and clarity, which the audience received with rapturous applause. It’s not surprising that McCawley won First Prize in the 1993 International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna. The additional 'gift’ that McCawley gave to the audience was Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G major. His playing was both delicate and intimate and the audience showed their appreciation through extensive applause.
Andrea G. Torres


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La Nueva España 20th January 2017
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Manuel López-Gómez at Teatro Jovellanos, Gijón

The Piano Concerto No 3 in C Minor [Beethoven] gave us the chance to enjoy another talent. Before the dazzling Steinway piano was seated the British pianist, Leon McCawley, who offered us a recital of tremendous significance. His task was complicated and extensive, and he achieved it with an admirable technique, great enthusiasm and passion. Such was his skill that it merited the extensive applause that in turn led him to give an ‘encore’ – the Moment Musical of Schubert. Without doubt we were treated to an evening of the very highest quality, a musical apotheosis!
Cuca Alonso


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El Norte, Monterrey, Mexico 5th November 2016
Orquesta Sinfónica e la UANL/Jesús Medina

The greatness of Mozart's work lies in the simplicity of his melodies, which requires the interpreter, paradoxically, high precision and ease at the same time. Both qualities were in evidence in the interpretation offered by the Briton, Leon McCawley of Piano Concerto No. 21 of the Austrian composer, Thursday night, in the fifth season concert of the Orquesta Sinfónica de la UANL, directed by Jesús Medina. The soloist, expert in Mozart, conveyed the energy of the first and third movement of the piece, as well as the sweetness of the famous tune of the second movement, full of sensitivity, but with a touch of playfulness in the change in dynamic.
Luis Lopez


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Boulezian 13th April 2016
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hilary Davan Wetton at Cadogan Hall April 12th 2016

Leon McCawley joined the orchestra for an excellent performance of the C major Piano Concerto, KV 467. Davan Wetton imparted a fine sense of the martial quasi-neo-Classicism to the opening tutti. Sternness but also a willingness to yield were hallmarks of the performance as a whole. Lovely wind playing was answered by McCawley’s pearly tone, every note weighed for its colour, without a hint of pedantry. The music ‘flowed like oil’, as someone once said. Trills were an especial joy. The second group was, rightly, both related and contrasted to what had gone before, form assuming its own dynamism and balance. The piano writing looked forward at times to Beethoven, without ever sounding quite ‘like’ him. Nina Milkina’s cadenza here (and in the finale) offered a winning sense of fidelity through Romantic anachronism. The slow movement benefited from beautiful string playing, a perfect marriage of arco and pizzicato redolent of warm evening serenades. If that evoked Salzburg, McCawley’s piano evoked Vienna, and rightly so. Phrasing was inobtrusively ‘right’, a tribute to soloist, orchestra, and conductor alike. Above all, the music sang. The finale emerged as heir to both its predecessors, the RPO woodwind leading us into a veritable garden of delights. Chamber and orchestral tendencies were held in splendid balance throughout.
Mark Berry


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Bachtrack February 13th 2015
St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Dmitriev at The Anvil, Basingstoke

Leon McCawley, the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor, made a far more memorable impression and there was now a frisson of excitement in the hall...Dmitriev created just the right tempo for the opening Allegro non troppo to allow McCawley to express both aching tenderness in the first movement’s plaintive gestures and terror in its homicidal octaves which were thrilling in their propulsive vigour...Flute and oboe made sensitive solo contributions in the slow movement, as did two cellists and McCawley seemed to enjoy himself in the quicksilver Prestissimo. It was in the final pages of the Allegro con fuoco, where his exhilarating scales helped lift the performance onto another plane and demonstrate how good this orchestra can be. Further demonstration of McCawley’s artistry was heard in the gentle lyricism of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G major, Op.32, no. 5 that served as an encore.
David Truslove


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The Journal 20th January 2015
Royal Northern Sinfonia/John Wilson at The Sage, Gateshead

And if the first piece was hypnotic, the second was truly mesmerising. It brought the acclaimed, multi award-winning British pianist Leon McCawley on stage for George Gershwin’s iconic Piano Concerto in F major.

This was irresistible music played with panache and great freedom, and imbued with so many of Gershwin’s compositional trademarks. The very embodiment of the dazzling creativity and vitality of New York in the mid-1920s, the sound balance between pianist and orchestra was perfect.
Rob Barnes


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El Norte, Monterrey, November 15th 2014
OSUANL/Guillermo Salvador in Monterrey, Mexico

The soloist played a model Mozart; precise, light, crystalline and with a well-conceived musical fluidity. The tempi were just perfect. Many years have passed since I have heard such a fine performance of a Mozart piano concerto [K.488]. The University Orchestra, with Mexican Guillermo Salvador at the baton was also a notable contributor to the work’s success.
Gabriel Rangel


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Seen and Heard International November 2nd 2014
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Karabits at Cadogan Hall, London

Leon McCawley has made a close study of Mozart’s piano music so it was good to hear him putting his own personal stamp on this concerto [K.488]. Karabits and the RPO took a robust approach to the opening exposition while at the same time retaining a sense of Classical elegance. McCawley was clearly in complete agreement as regards interpretation: his playing was crisp and elegant but without being unduly precious while the passage work was played with a high degree of technical finish and attention to detail.  There was excellent rapport and interplay with the RPO and McCawley brought a vibrancy and an instinctive naturalness to the piano writing.  The tempo for the F Sharp minor Adagio was well judged and McCawley played the opening in a richly expressive and romantic way – this was absolutely gorgeous playing.  The central section had real charm and the final section, where the piano is accompanied by pizzicato strings, was highly charged and atmospheric.  The tempo was again well judged for the finale – pianists sometimes play the opening too fast, creating subsequent difficulties for the woodwind players.  The central section had a bubbling effervescence and there was a playful quality to some of the exchanges with the woodwind.  I thought this was a first rate piece of playing by McCawley with Karabits and the RPO providing strong support.
Robert Beattie


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GoldenPlec.com September 29th 2014
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Stefan Blunier at National Concert Hall Dublin

The stage is reset for Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor…McCawley’s playing is immaculate and sensitive, and both he and the orchestra seem to relish each other’s company – leading to an intimate performance that captures the chamber-music-like aspects of Schumann’s work…a fabulous performance of the concerto.
Anthony Brooks


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Dorset Echo October 17th 2013
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes at Lighthouse, Poole

Leon McCawley was the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 in which his reprise of the introductory orchestral themes was garnished with colourful tints. Completing the impressive cadenza, he trilled gracefully towards the mysterious timpani’s solo role and released the final orchestral engagement. Serenely cogent, McCawley’s latent care prepared spacious solos in the Largo with an unusual degree of humility and led on to the dramatic keyboard traversals of the finale with arresting virtuosity.
Mike Marsh


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Bath Chronicle October 13th 2013
Bath Philharmonia/Jason Thornton at Bath Abbey

In complete contrast, Leon McCawley played two Mozart Piano Concertos, 12 and 13 and Britten’s Young Apollo. This was a prodigious paradigm of pianism, technically outstanding, with Bath Phil under leader Gilly Findlay, lending sympathetic support. I especially remember the quite exquisite Andante from Mozart 13, with its vivid yet restful tranquillity wonderfully recreated by McCawley and the utterly different keyboard fireworks of the Britten. What a piece to play! And what a colossal performance.
Peter Lloyd Williams


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Stratford-upon-Avon Herald March 21st 2013
Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis

It is difficult to describe the sheer brilliance of McCawley's performance. The Britten [Young Apollo] calls for intensity and sparkle, and an energetic muscularity. McCawley supplied all the dexterity and digital articulation the piece calls for, backed by emotionally evocative accompaniment from a chamber-sized Orchestra of the Swan.

Mozart [Piano Concerto No. 12 K.414] requires from his performers not only precise articulation but also a graceful sense of the piano's potential for lyricism, warmth and colour. Again, McCawley was more than equal to the task, ranging from the melodious emotionalism of the second movement's Andante to the impish rhythms of the third movement. It was especially good to see and hear the sympathetic engagement of the soloist with the orchestra strings, more collaboration than counterpoint.
Sandy Holt


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Birmingham Post March 21st 2013
Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis at Birmingham Town Hall

Leon McCawley was the generously committed soloist [in Britten's Young Apollo], energetic in the opening movement's momentum and he shared a wonderfully alert sense of ensemble with Curtis and the orchestra.

...[an] engaging account of the early [Mozart] A major Concerto K414...[with] McCawley's neat clarity, uncluttered singing phrasing and sense of line direction.
Christopher Morley


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Bachtrack January 28th 2013
Philharmonia/John Wilson at Royal Festival Hall

The centrepiece of this matinee was John Ireland’s Piano Concerto...Pianist Leon McCawley’s superb, faultless playing brought out as much as possible of the expressiveness of the lento second movement, whilst obviously enjoying himself in the almost jazz-like sections of the first and third movements.
Julia Savage


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Classical Source January 21st 2013
Philharmonia/John Wilson at Royal Festival Hall

Leon McCawley played [John Ireland’s Piano Concerto] immaculately...[a] first-rate contribution, together with those of Wilson and the Philharmonia.
Richard Landau


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D Magazine August 29th 2012
Fort Worth Symphony/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Hall

On Friday night, British pianist Leon McCawley joined the orchestra and music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya for Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety, a work of Mahleresque proportions written in 1949 and inspired by W.H. Auden’s extended poem of the same name. The work resonated powerfully...with a topnotch performance by McCawley of the demanding piano obbligato.
Wayne Lee Gay


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Theater Jones August 25th 2012
Fort Worth Symphony/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Hall

The orchestra played beautifully and pianist Leon McCawley turned in a terrific performance of Bernstein's hybrid score (part symphony and part piano concerto).

The take-away impression of the concert was the stunning performance of Bernstein's rarely performed symphony.
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs


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Fort Worth Star Telegram August 24th 2012
Fort Worth Symphony/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Hall

McCawley's at times sensitive, at times brilliant playing [of Bernstein's Age of Anxiety] seemed right on.
Olin Chism


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Philadelphia Inquirer February 14th 2012
Curtis Symphony Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Kimmel Center

The work [Bernstein's Age of Anxiety] is not a piano concerto, although Leon McCawley must have used most of his considerable gifts in meeting the demands in writing that changes moods and pulse. His playing moved through a wide flow of color in mirroring the many states of mind.
Daniel Webster


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Northern Echo March 14th 2011
Northern Sinfonia/John Wilson at The Sage Gateshead

Next up was Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto 2, fronted by Leon McCawley. The opening bells like chords were laid out with deliberate care, leading into a magnificent entry by the Sinfonia. The synergy between soloist and orchestra was complete; with Wilson shaping marvellously expansive phrasing that surged with poetic power. McCawley’s treatment of the slow movement was a study in aching beauty, as he invested each note with eloquent meaning. The rush through the tumultuous final movement saw razor sharp exchanges with the orchestra. Another gem of a concert.
Gavin Engelbrecht


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The Dallas Morning News March 7th 2011
Fort Worth Symphony/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Hall

The piano part [of the Barber concerto] is of legendary difficulty, but British pianist Leon McCawley dispatched it brilliantly.
Scott Cantrell


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Fort Worth Star-Telegram March 5th 2011
Fort Worth Symphony/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Hall

The first part of the program was devoted to Barber's concerto, with Leon McCawley as the soloist. He was impressive in dealing with the work's many bravura passages as well as its underlying lyricism (especially in the slow movement).
Olin Chism


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TheaterJones.com March 5th 2011
Fort Worth Symphony/Miguel Harth-Bedoya at Bass Hall

McCawley was just amazing as he negotiated Barber’s fists full of notes. He was equally effective in the more lyrical passages. It was just a terrific reading of the piece. The orchestra responded in kind and the sum total turned out to be a firecracker of a performance.
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs


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Birmingham Post March 4th 2011
CBSO Youth Orchestra/John Wilson at Symphony Hall

Concerto-collaboration is another of the CBSOYO’s great strengths, and in the fascinating, irresistible Gershwin Piano Concerto there was a wonderful pat-a-cake of interplay between the smiling orchestra and soloist Leon McCawley. McCawley was alive to all the music’s nuances, combining Fifth Avenue jazziness with Rachmaninovian figurations.

Rating *****
Christopher Morley


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Guardian March 3rd 2010
Royal Philharmonic/Hilary Davan Wetton at the Barbican

Leon McCawley was the exemplary piano soloist here [Beethoven's Choral Fantasia], as he was in the Emperor Concerto, which he played with commanding technical authority and a shining, enriched tone.
George Hall


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La Nueva España (Gijón) 22nd January 2017
Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Manuel López-Gómez at Teatro Jovellanos, Gijón

Soloist Leon McCawley appeared on stage to give us the Piano Concerto No 3 [Beethoven], that in its conception leads us along a romantic path. There was a long introduction from the orchestra but when it came to McCawley, he demonstrated to the audience his mastery of the classic/romantic field of music. With his first entrance, McCawley brought a special feeling to the main theme, managing to achieve an exceptional expressiveness while maintaining the narrative. He chose a lightness of character in the Classical Piano style, à la Mozart, notably in the extensive solos that close the ‘Allegro con Brio’. McCawley was the absolute protagonist in the ‘Largo’, filled as it is with romantic and subtle ‘dialogues’ with the orchestra, achieved by playing and blending the notes in an almost imperceptible way. The final Rondo was an example of order and elegance for which McCawley received an ovation for his rôle. He gave the audience an added bonus with Schubert’s Moment Musical.
E.V.


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International Piano Sept/Oct 2009
BBC Proms with BBC Philharmonic/Sinaisky

Certainly the Fantasia, largely unaccompanied and evincing a generalised rhetoric that is its nearest approximation to 'grand',is not without an element of self-consciousness, so all credit to Leon McCawley for making it seem so organic while also implying a greater tonal and textural variety that is actually the case. Nor was he at all lacking vitality in the Toccata, Finzi's longest stretch of fast music and with a curiously ironic edge to its virtuosity that was no less well conveyed.
Richard Whitehouse


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Times Online August 2nd 2009
BBC Proms/BBC Philharmonic 23rd July 2009

Leon McCawley a brilliant soloist...
Paul Driver


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The Times July 27th 2009
BBC Proms with BBC Philharmonic/Sinaisky

Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Toccata...forcefully projected by the pianist Leon McCawley.
Geoff Brown


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Evening Standard July 24th 2009
BBC Proms with BBC Philharmonic/Sinaisky

Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Toccata..excellently played by Leon McCawley
Barry Millington


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The Guardian July 24th 2009
BBC Proms with BBC Philharmonic/Sinaisky

The other first-half rarity was Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Toccata, the 15-minute offspring of some abandoned ideas for a piano concerto. Offering a more grandiose view of the composer, it begins with a long introduction for piano alone in which the influence of JS Bach is rather heavily worn. Then the toccata dances along on ricocheted repeated notes, crisply dispatched here by soloist Leon McCawley, from whose conviction the piece benefited enormously.
Erica Jeal


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Music Web International 23rd July 2009
BBC Proms/BBC Philharmonic

Between the Symphonies we heard the Proms premiere of Gerald Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Toccata- a marvellous work full of wit and with a dance of life to cap it. Leon McCawley was a fine soloist, giving the six, or so, minutes of (solo) pseudo Bach Fantasia in a bold and forthright manner and with the orchestra dancing for joy in the Toccata.
Bob Briggs


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Citylife.co.uk 22nd June 2009
Hallé/John Wilson at Bridgewater Hall

The piano solo was for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, and masterly, too. Conductor and soloist took it very straight, with no attempt to disguise its variation form, and vivid contrasts between the upbeat and gentler sections. The famous 18th variation, well prepared for and movingly sustained, was sweetly lyrical without sentimentality.
Robert Beale


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Belfast Newsletter March 19th 2009
Ulster Orchestra/ Tomas Hanus

The [Dvorak] Piano Concerto in G minor is not a particularly characteristic work, nor is it often heard. Even so, the collaborative character of it works very well, with piano and orchestra often equally weighted. Leon McCawley is an accomplished technician and brought a wonderful facility to difficult passages in which the two hands double each other and work across the whole of the keyboard. This was a very convincing performance, the final movement coming very much into its own and making for a fine finish to the first half of the concert.
Andrea Rea


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Classical Source August 2008 (www.classicalsource.com)
Mostly Mozart Festival at the Barbican August 1st 2008

Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Carlo Rizzi Mozart K.482

Leon McCawley was the soloist for one of Mozart's grandest piano concertos. Eschewing sensationalism, this was everything one could wish for in a performance on modern instruments. Proving himself a natural Mozartean, McCawley didn't try to do too much with the music, letting it – in the manner of Brendel – speak for itself. Demonstrating artless fluidity, McCawley's uncomplicated approach produced joyous results in the ebullient first movement. Following suit, Rizzi and the ASMF provided alert accompaniment.

The soulful lament of the central Andante was intense but not over-romanticised; and if the contrasting passages featuring the superb wind section could have been characterised more, the players were impressively sure-footed and in-keeping with the restrained mood. The playful finale radiated an infectious sense of fun. Mozart's ‘surprise’ minuet, inserted halfway through, was too slow; but it gave McCawley the chance to embellish with some tasteful ornamentation. As in the opening movement, McCawley concluded with a deliciously mischievous – but stylish – cadenza by Nina Milkina. If only there were more performances of Mozart’s piano concertos as consistent and compelling as this one was.
Graham Rogers


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Philadelphia Inquirer July 5th 2008
Philadelphia Orchestra/Rossen Milanov at Mann Music Center

Inspiration in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 in E Flat Major, K. 482, came in the form of the soloist, Leon McCawley. You could hear the orchestra in places meeting his musicality, finding a shared philosophy rooted in a concept of refined sound.

The London-based pianist, who studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Eleanor Sokoloff, is a master of tone and articulation. He is able to connect a string of notes so that one seems to begin before the last one stops - yet each is distinct. He is unfailingly expressive, forming phrases that ask questions and making strikingly original statements.
Peter Dobrin


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York Evening Press May 2008
York Guildhall Orchestra/ Simon Wright

Leon McCawley approached his solo role [in Schumann's Piano Concerto] selflessly, treating the work as a duet rather than a virtuoso vehicle. He rippled through the first movement soulfully, but held nothing back in its cadenza.Equally poetic in the slow movement, he was not afraid even in the finale to steady the ship when the tempo was overhasty. His was an exceptional performance.
Martin Dreyer


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The Glasgow Herald March 31st 2008
Camerata Scotland/Diego Masson

The cheeky, even eccentric sounds of the first and third movements [Ravel Piano Concerto in G] were met by soloist and orchestra alike, while McCawley had the chance to express himself in the adagio, which he did in the beautiful chasm of the halls.
Graham Fraser


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The Dundee Courier March 29th 2008
Camerata Scotland/Diego Masson

Leon McCawley was the dazzling soloist in Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. The clarity of the Perth Concert Hall has often been praised before and it fully allowed the precision and detail of the playing to come through.In the lively first movement the jazzy and blues nature of the work received its full due, with the anarchic final bars and resounding thump as a sonic delight in itself. Poise and beauty of line were key in the slow movement.
CLA


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Aberdeen Press and Journal March 28th 2008
Camerata Scotland/Diego Masson

...the ensemble were joined by one of the UK's finest young pianists, Leon McCawley, for the Ravel Piano Concerto in G. Mr. McCawley found the perfect balance between carnival and charisma.
Roddy Philips


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Philadelphia Inquirer June 25th 2007
The Philadelphia Orchestra/ Rossen Milanov at Kimmel Center

The orchestra imported superb London pianist Leon McCawley for Mozart's uncharacteristically anxious D minor (K. 466) piano concerto.
Peter Dobrin


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Cincinnati Post November 17th 2006
Cincinnati Symphony/ Gianandrea Noseda

British pianist McCawley, whose acclaimed recordings include the complete Mozart piano sonatas, did not disappoint. His performance of Mozart's great D Minor Piano Concerto, K.466, was polished to a high sheen. There was a focused solidity to his tone that served this music well, and he laid out the most strenuous passages like strings of pearls.

The chipper little tune that opens the Romanza contrasted nicely with its animated mid-section. McCawley announced the finale with a dramatic flourish, a quality he also brought to the first and last movement cadenzas, both by Beethoven.
Mary Ellyn Hutton


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Cincinnati Enquirer November 17th 2006
Cincinnati Symphony/ Gianandrea Noseda

...Mozart's Concerto in D Minor, K. 466 was the picture of refinement. British pianist Leon McCawley, making his debut, is a virtuoso whose playing was all about clarity, grace and beauty of tone. This Mozart, with such lightness of touch and shorter bows in the orchestra, was a rarity.

That's not to say McCawley couldn't conjure drama when needed; his cadenzas, by Beethoven, were ablaze with color. McCawley let the beauty of the music shine with no trace of ego.
Janelle Gelfland


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Irish News November 13th 2006
Ulster Orchestra/ Tuomas Ollila at Ulster Hall, Belfast

But the highlight of the evening came with the performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor and the evening’s soloist Leon McCawley.

The highly acclaimed British pianist wooed the Ulster Hall audience with his commanding technical and interpretative flair. The adagio second movement was especially well paced and coloured. A Friday evening well spent.
Richard Yarr


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Irish Independent November 11th 2006
Ulster Orchestra/ Tuomas Ollila at National Concert Hall, Dublin

The concerto, in which Maestro Ollila provided sympathetic support, introduced English pianist Leon McCawley to the NCH platform. His interpretation came from thoughtful perceptiveness rather than flashy showmanship and, as a result, Grieg’s melodic invention enjoyed a natural flow.
Pat O’Kelly


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Irish Times 11th November 2006
Ulster Orchestra/ Tuomas Ollila

British pianist Leon McCawley offered a clean and cool account of the Grieg Piano Concerto. He shunned sentimentality and sculpted the music with consistent intelligence.
Michael Derwan


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Birmingham Mail Mar 11 2006
CBSO/Andrew Litton Beethoven 1 8th March 2006

Soloist Leon McCawley played with a fluidity, passion and virtuosity that understandably won enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Paul Fulford


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Birmingham Post March 10 2006
CBSO/ Andrew Litton at Symphony Hall

In terms of integrity and belief in the soul's indomitability it's not too much of a step from Shostakovich to Beethoven, whose First Piano Concerto launched the evening in a warm-hearted collaboration with the popular and much admired Leon McCawley.

Infusing every note and phrase with thoughtful colour, subtly hinting at underlying drama, McCawley's reading was matched by sympathetic, appreciative orchestral responses under the musicianly Litton-no mean pianist himself.
Christopher Morley


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Hampstead and Highgate Express August 5 2005
Mostly Mozart Festival/ Barbican with Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/ John Nelson

...the Concerto No 11 in D major Hob. XVIII [Haydn] is probably the best known and Leon McCawley offered as an impeccable and expressive performance of it as one might hear. McCawley's performing version included the cadenzas of Nina Milkina, which he played with just the right amount of expressive feeling and clarity and his tempi throughout seemed well in keeping with 18th century mannerisms.
David Sonin


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Daily Telegraph/ July 26th 2004
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Sakari Oramo at BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall

"...a tour de force of instrumental colour, greatly enhanced by pianist Leon McCawley." (Stravinsky: Petrushka)
Geoffrey Norris


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The Guardian February 16 2004
CBSO/ Oramo at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Finally, the CBSO were in vibrant form for the 1947 version of Stravinsky's Petrushka, with Leon McCawley bringing an incisive ring to the concertante piano role and Oramo bringing strong theatricality to the crazed and dysfunctional characters, underlining just how brilliantly this music transcended its function as a ballet score.
Rian Evans


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www.musicweb.uk.net 16th December 2003
London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Kurt Masur at RFH

McCawley’s self-effacing playing of Beethoven’s C minor was totally at the service of the composer, stripped bare of rhetorical mannerisms. So transparent and seemingly perfect was his crystalline clarity - in tempi, tone and colour - that it did not feel like an ‘interpretation’, more the music itself, as written, note for note. The pianist showed great athletic agility and total mastery of the keyboard in the Allegro, whilst in the Largo McCawley became both radiant and reflective, giving a frosted quality to the notes. The concluding Rondo was restrained yet full-bodied and buoyant.McCawley demonstrated the supreme attribute of the virtuoso in concealing his formidable technique in the interests of the work – the true art which conceals art: at no time were we made aware of the pianist showing off with meretricious display. Instead he presented Beethoven as truthfully as possible. Baton-free Masur had total rapport with his pianist and gave a full-blooded reading, securing superb playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the strings in particular having incredible weight.
Alex Russell


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Guardian/ 16th December 2003
London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Kurt Masur at RFH

In Leon McCawley the orchestra had a soloist whose lyricism was underpinned by a satisfying sense of muscle. His interpretation fitted aptly with that of Kurt Masur;the young British pianist and the veteran German conductor made an effective and sympathetic team. McCawley's playing was robust enough not to be overshadowed by the strong, serious orchestral introduction, but it was consistantly thoughtful as well. The highlight was the finale: the spiky, insistent theme kept its piquancy despite so many repetitions, only to be transformed into something truly tender when played in a far-off key.
Erica Jeal


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The Scotsman/ 25th October 2003
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ Nicolae Moldoveanu

Leon McCawley as the soloist in Grieg’s lusciously romantic piano concerto proved a master of the bell-like ripple. He brought out the heady lightness of the work rather than the impassioned drama - until the last movement, which fired up nicely.
Mary Crockett


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www.musicweb.uk.net 5th May 2003
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

McCawley stamped his authority of the work from the opening statement, giving it powerful advocacy, not least in the impressive cadenza towards the end of the opening movement. Oramo coaxed some finely delicate playing from the woodwind in the Canzone, McCawley responding with finely balanced and thoughtfully sensitive solo dialogue. The frenetic energy of the closing Allegro molto with its 5/8 driving meter and splashes of Prokofiev in the melody was vividly captured leaving me with the impression of a charismatic soloist possessing a sound technique and admirably clear articulation.
Christopher Thomas


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The Dallas Morning News/Friday 8 March 2002
Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Centre/7 March 2002


Pleasures cultivated at Meyerson
…The concert introduced a young British pianist, Leon McCawley, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor. He proved to be a classy artist, giving a flowing performance that had its share of drama while avoiding exaggeration, either musical or visual.

We know from Mozart’s letters that the quality of taste in performance was important to him - in fact, just about the highest tribute he could pay to a fellow artist was "He had good taste". This is one of Mr. McCawley’s attributes. He is reminiscent of another classy British artist, the late Clifford Curzon….
Olin Chism


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Eastern Daily Express/21 July 2001
English Chamber Orchestra/Stephanie Gonley
Kings Lynn Festival 2001
Kings Lynn Corn Exchange/19 July 2001


…Sandwiched between the two symphonies was the most satisfying part of the programme, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with former BBC Young Musician of the Year Leon McCawley opening with a lovely lilt, progressing to thoughtful joviality and a cadenza of extreme clarity. After a quite emotional Adagio came a joyous finale in which the soloist was obviously out to enjoy himself in dialogue with the ECO which by now were warm and precise in their accompaniment.
Michael Drake


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The Register-Guard 17th March 2001
Eugene Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Leighton Smith 15th March 2001

Conductor, pianist end up as perfect guests

The Eugene Symphony Orchestra welcomed two accomplished guests at its concert Thursday night in the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall. Leon McCawley was the excellent soloist, and the concert was ably conducted by Lawrence Leighton Smith. …The Rachmaninoff Third Concerto is at once a challenge, a terror and a rewarding prize for pianists. Its passionate melodies and rich harmony have made it an audience favorite; that was again true on Thursday.…Leon McCawley thoroughly met the challenge that Rachmaninoff posed in this concerto. McCawley’s performance was in the great tradition, giving full value to the bravura, the passion and the whimsy of the score. He played even the most difficult passages seemingly without strain, and even in them his tone remained singing…
Peter Bergquist


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The Daily Echo 20th January 2001
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Kees Bakels 17th January 2001

His reading of Piano Concerto No. 23 was quite the most beguiling I’ve heard, delightfully phrased, serene in the lyrical stages and ideally energised in the more dynamic sections.

The adagio was Mozart to die for, imbued with such extraordinary depth of expression in McCawley’s sensitive hands.

In directing the BSO, Kees Bakels proved ideal, supportive in every respect - not least the spirited finale in which the gleaming vigour of the soloist’s response was untarnished by extreme gestures…
Mike Marsh


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