SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0188
Classica Magazine (France), March 2019
In his last disc (Haydn Sonatas- SOMM), as in this, Leon McCawley seduces the listener by a spontaneous performance devoid of any sense of narcissism. This freshness and purity are apparent in the three Klavierstücke D946. He thus chooses relatively lively tempi but which never affect the quality of phrasing or the control of melodic lines; I also like the playfulness he displays in the Klavierstück No. 3, his sense of drama in the central part of Klavierstück No. 1 and in the song Die junge Nonne arranged for solo piano by Liszt. Amazingly, Leon McCawley also knows how to make the piano sound like an orchestra in the lied Du bist die Ruh’ or in the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy. Here is an album communicated with such tenderness, naturalness and sincerity. *****
Diapason, February 2019
A musician of great finesse, Leon McCawley has brought to disc the extent of his talent in repertoire as diverse as Haydn, Mozart, Rachmaninov and Barber. He approaches Schubert with an ideal sense of proportion together with fine cantabile detail, two qualities that work wonders in the second of the Klavierstücke D946: the left hand, singularly distinct, has a soul and the interpretation moves forward in a masterly way. The third, with bright-silver reflections, is beautifully interpreted! The five songs transcribed by Liszt are played with all the necessary charm and sensitivity: noble declamation (Sei mir gegrüsst), anxious quivering (Die junge Nonne), intense simplicity (Du bist die Ruh’). Faultless. Der Wanderer casts a bridge to the vast Fantasie, where its theme resurfaces in the slow movement. ****
The Cross-Eyed Pianist, February 1st 2019
This enjoyable account presents Schubert’s often overlooked Drei Klavierstücke D946 alongside song transcriptions by Liszt and a rollicking Wanderer fantasy. [In D946] McCawley neatly captures Schubert’s mercurial nature but never dwells too long in the melancholic, reminding us that though these pieces were written the year Schubert died, their composer was still very much alive. This is most clearly demonstrated in the third of the triptych, an energetic scherzo with a hymn-like middle section, and throughout the three works, McCawley highlights their songful qualities and dramatic contrasts.
Schubert’s songs, refracted through Liszt’s genius into wonderfully absorbing pieces for solo piano, are here given warmth, virtuosity and heroism in equal measure – for example in the gradual climatic grandeur of Auf dem Wasser zu singen, beautifully paced by McCawley. Meanwhile, McCawley’s Wanderer is a muscular majestic canter, positive in message but also replete in subtle harmonic shadings and an eloquent sensitivity to Schubert’s shifting emotional landscape.
Midlands Classical Music Making, January 17th 2019 (www.midlandsmusicreviews.com)
Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy in C major has received some heavy-handed “virtuoso” performances with even great pianists inclined to pull tempi about to make an interpretative point. McCawley’s playing reveals sensitive phrasing, rhythmic precision and no excessive keyboard rhetoric. The opening movement is crisp and energetic, a true Allegro making Pollini’s slower tempo on his otherwise magisterial recording (DG) sound a little staid. The work is a landmark of stormy musical romanticism but McCawley doesn’t overlook its lyricism, with a beautifully expressive Adagio. Liszt’s five arrangements of Schubert lieder put virtuosity in the service of the music. In McCawley’s hands the growing religious ecstasy of Die junge Nonne and the aching melancholy of Du bist die Ruh are palpable. The Drei Klavierstücke are like musical versions of Hoffmann’s magical tales – disturbing, dream-like and disorientating with McCawley capturing their kaleidoscopic moods. His performances are enhanced by an outstandingly clear and faithful recording. *****
BBC Music Magazine, January 2019
Leon McCawley’s ingeniously-planned Schubert programme sees the Wanderer Fantasy preceded by a group of Liszt’s song transcriptions culminating in ‘Der Wanderer’. McCawley gives a fine account of the Wanderer Fantasy, with an atmospheric account of its brooding slow movement, and a scherzo that’s as light on its toes as it ought to be…McCawley’s is a virtuoso performance and carried off with admirable aplomb. He’s very good in the Liszt arrangements, too, handing the apotheosis of ‘Die junge Nonne’ superbly, and not holding back on the sometimes overblown climaxes in the remaining songs. He handles the tricky tempo relationships between the various sections [of Three Piano Pieces D946] very successfully.
This pianist’s intelligent and sensitive playing affords a good deal of listening pleasure.
Performance **** Recording ****
International Piano, January/February 2019
Perhaps because of its prosaic title (Three Piano Pieces), Schubert’s D946 remains under-recorded and performed for its stature…yet these are substantial and magnificent pieces. McCawley gives an impetuous, febrile account of the first- tormented, even; plus, he has the intelligence to think in the long lines these works demand. Of the song selection of five Lieder arranged by Liszt, which form a central panel to the recital, Du bist die Ruh is most remarkable for its interior expression. As to the Wanderer Fantasy, it is full of intelligent observation…
An ambitious Schubert disc, creditably done. ****
Classical Music Daily, 3rd January 2019
Having listened to them [Three Piano Pieces D946] numerous times I knew that – both literally, as well as figuratively – they were in good hands. Leon McCawley’s singing melodic lines are supported by translucent, softly played harmonies. These components combine to give a meaningful, eloquent performance.
Mr McCawley superbly interprets five of Liszt’s arrangements (S 558). In Sei mir gegrüsst (I greet you), Die junge Nonne (The Young Nun), Du bist die Ruh (You are the Rest and Peace), Auf dem Wasser zu singen (To be sung on the water) and Der Wanderer (The Wanderer) he proves that he is a master of conveying majestic feelings. His unique touch, articulation, expressive dialogue between hands and outstanding technique are admirably illustrated in virtuoso passages which demonstrate his remarkable sense of style. This recording offers many memorable moments for the listener.
The above mentioned Der Wanderer transcription both thematically and musically prepares the Wanderer Fantasy (D 760). Schubert wove one of the original lied‘s motifs into the Fantasy – hence its name.
As there is an abundance of technically demanding passages in the four-movement piece, it is considered to be Schubert’s most difficult masterwork. The composer himself said, ‘The devil may play it!’. Indeed, virtuosity, passion and energy sweep through Leon McCawley’s polished Wanderer performance.
Classical Ear, 28th November 2018
Leon McCawley’s urgent performances of the three late Schubert Klavierstücke remind me of a long-held ambition to recommend the pieces as interludes at pivotal points in Schubert’s Winterreise song-cycle. They fit the mood to a T, the first especially, running breathless in realms of incipient tragedy. McCawley knows how to gauge mood and colour, especially in the Adagio section of the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy, while the fugato opening of the finale – which so often degenerates into percussive clatter – here sounds just what it is, a decisively conclusive allegro. This is strong Schubert playing, the sort we might have had from Backhaus or Serkin. And there are the Liszt transcriptions, all of them well played, Du bist die Ruh drawing to a noble climax, Die junge Nonne suitably wind tossed, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, as lyrical as Schubert’s original, Sei mir gegrüsst warmly voiced and Der Wanderer, another sympathetic interpretation, sensibly placed directly before the Fantasy. Excellent sound, too, and superb booklet-notes from Bryce Morrison. ****