Avie Records AV 0029

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Classics Today October 2004

Leon McCawley makes a formidable impression throughout Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, where his varied tone color and articulation deliciously animate the mercurial piano writing. McCawley’s supple technique, moreover, allows him to effortlessly toss off quicker movements or to shape legato lines to fullest effect with little aid from the sustain pedal. The same lightness of being and directness of approach inform Waldszenen. Listen, for example, to how McCawley voices the opening piece’s main melody and inner counterpoints in telling perspective with the accompanying chords, or notice how much expressive mileage No. 4 (Verrufene Stelle) gains when interpreted with minimum rubato and maximum linear awareness. The pianist at first seems to throw Nos. 5, 6, and 7 away, yet repeated hearings reveal subtle gradations in touch and timing that I daresay match the classic Richter and Haskil interpretations on their own intimate turf.
Jed Distler

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Pianist April-May 2004

This is one of the finest Schumann recitals I’ve come across in a long time…Leon McCawley has been steadily building up a reputation over the past decade and this two-disc set will clearly add substantially to that. It isn’t always easy for players to enter fully into Schumann’s imaginative world but that certainly seems to happen here. It isn’t just the suppleness of McCawley’s rhythms and phrasing, nor his sensitive pedalling, range of dynamics and assured though not robotically perfect technique. It’s the sheer sense of emotional spontaneity he brings to the music.

McCawley well understands the way these pieces- particularly opp 2, 6 and 16, in which Schumann was virtually creating a new genre of piano music as psychic fantasy- exist at the very interface between the classical and popular traditions and the burgeoning of free-spirit Romanticism. While never losing the formal thread, he allows the movements to unfold like artless streams of consciousness while secretly building up the larger, ever-allusive designs of which they are constituent parts. Yet in some ways the triumph of this two-disc set is the op 12 Fantasiestücke, the individual movements more discrete and more individually characterised, chimerical in their changes of mood, expounded here with utter conviction and a vein of sometimes tragic poetry that carries over into an equally fine rendition of the Kreisleriana. The recording, at St. George’s, Bristol, is superbly natural and warm. The set merits an enthusiastic recommendation.
Calum MacDonald

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Gramophone April Edition 2004 Take 5: Second Opinion

It is time to give Leon McCawley a puff…and in a fairer world he would surely be making more records. There are few works in the Romantic repertoire as demanding to play as Kreisleriana, the Davidsbündlertänze, and the Op 12 Fantasiestücke, and the performances on this ambitious double-CD are musically and technically scrupulous,colourful and vital in every detail and sustained with a delightful tone of voice.
Stephen Plaistow

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International Record Review April 2004

British pianist Leon McCawley…is fully attuned to the music’s [Kreisleriana] sudden mood swings.In the slower pieces (especially Nos. 2 and 6) he moves the music along with little lingering or point-making, and he displays a particularly keen ear for voicing. In the faster ones (especially Nos. 1 and 7) he plays with great rhythmic precision and textural clarity. And his superb finger and wrist technique is equal to the demands of Schumann’s sometimes awkward writing: he sails through No. 7 at a breathtaking tempo and plays the tiring rhythmic figures of Nos. 3 and 5 with wonderful crispness and ease. From a purely pianistic standpoint, this is one of the finest accounts in the catalogue….

He is more persuasive in Davidsbündlertänze, where the simple dance rhythms and short ternary forms are a perfect showcase for his direct musicianship. Humour, poetry and passion alternate in a perfectly paced performance, and the cycle as a whole benefits from his minimal breaks between the 18 pieces. The most technically demanding, Nos. 6 and 13 are dispatched at top speed, and with an enviable control of touches. McCawley’s is surely one of the most satisfying recordings I know of this wonderful work, the equal of Murray Perahia’s recorded at roughly the same age…..
Charles Timbrell

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Gramophone March 2004 Editor’s Choice

A prize-winning pianist makes his mark in Schumann with fine and sensitive playing

Avie’s two-CD album celebrates a richly inclusive cross-section ranging from Schumann’s Opp2 to 82, from early ardour to later introspection, and vice-versa. For, whatever the opus, Schumann’s ultra Romantic genius- his rapid shifts from pain to solace, from tears to laughter- is paramount. Above all, it is in Schumann’s wide-eyed wonder, his naivety, in the most complimentary sense of the term, that 30-year-old, prize-winning Leon McCawley shines and makes his mark.

True, a certain politeness inhibits him from relishing to the very full every shift of the kaleidoscopic imagination in, say, Papillons but elesewhere- in the closing, enchanted reminiscence of Davidsbündlertänze or in the ‘exquisite bird song in an ominous setting’ (the ‘Prophet Bird’ from Op 82)- he is at his very best. In the Fantasiestücke, he delights in the cross-accentuation, kittenish by-play of ‘Fabel’ while providing an attractive alternative to other more hectic performances of ‘Traumes Wirren’.

His Arabesque is another notable success (never more so than in the glowing retrospective coda). Most of all, he is finely sensitive to the inner promptings and recesses of Kreisleriana: the sehr langsam and Bewegt of No 4, the central mocking polyphonic whirl of No 7 or the alternatively gentle and explosive whimsy of No 8 (quite without undue pointing and emphasis) all testify to his winning ease and sensitivity. Excellent recording, first-class accompanying essay and lavish presentation.
Bryce Morrison

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Evening Standard 13th January 2004

With this ambitious collection, which contains five of Schumann’s major piano works, as well as a couple of Liszt song transcriptions and the the ubiquitous (and still lovely) Arabeske Op 18, the British pianist Leon McCawley sets himself quite a challenge. But his playing- thoughtful, exciting and technically superb- is well suited to these composers.

He shows deep understanding of more complex psychologies in the 18 character pieces of Davidsbündlertänze, Op 6, a genuine cycle dedicated to his wife-to-be, Clara, and there is ample poise in the Fantasiestücke, Op 12 (“Traumes Wirren”, the seventh piece, is particularly beautifully done).

He is at his best amid the heady , varied passions, poetic and dramatic,of Kreisleriana, Op 16, where strength and sensitivity go rewardingly hand in hand.

Excellent ***/***
Stephen Pettitt

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Daily Telegraph/ December 20th 2003

McCawley’s taste has always been impeccable, and these recitals reveal his qualities of imagination and perspective to the full. The advantage of a single composer disc is that a pianist can give a more comprehensive idea of stylistic scope. To choose just one example of how effectively McCawley captures the diverse spirit of Schumann, listen to the Davidsbündlertänze and the way he characterises the reflective and demonstrative images that Schumann enshrined in them.
Geoffrey Norris

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Yorkshire Post / December 19th 2003

Prizewinner in the 1993 Leeds International Piano Competition, Leon McCawley has gathered together the most popular of Schumann’s piano works on two very well filled discs. Performances possess that ideal mix of the composer’s split personality, sharing his dreams as he passes through the pleasures of love, and falling deep into the torments of a tempestuous character unable to reach the unattainable. Never rushed, and using the full range of subtle hues in the tender moments, McCawley brings admirable clarity to the many stormy passages. Some of the best Schumann available.

Performance *****
David Denton

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Guardian/ December 5th 2003

McCawley gives..intensely musical performances in which he meets every technical challenge with total confidence.
Andrew Clements

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Birmingham Post/ November 22nd 2003

McCawley’s compelling blend of thoughtfulness, wit and well-judged articulation brings persuasive accounts of a generous selction of Schumann works on this double-CD release, recorded earlier this autumn in St. George’s, Brandon Hill, in Bristol.

Here we have Papillons, Davidsbündlertänze, Fantasiestücke, Kreisleriana, Arabeske, Waldszenen and a couple of Liszt transcriptions of which Widmung is particularly moving.
Christopher Morley