BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Leon McCawley

Sonata in C-minor, HXVI:20
Three Preludes, Op.65
Two Nocturnes, Op.37 – I in G-minor & II in G
32 Variations on an Original Theme in C-minor, WoO 80

Leon McCawley (piano)

Reviewed by: Barnaby Page

Reviewed: 5 March, 2018
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Leon McCawleyPhotograph: Clive BardaAt Wigmore Hall, Leon McCawley focussed on central European repertoire and provided within it much stylistic variety.

If the opening Haydn Sonata was precise, unemotional and exactly articulated, perhaps also lacking contrast in tempo, things soon took a much more impressionistic turn in the Three Preludes by Hans Gál (1890-1987), a prolific Austro-Jewish composer and Brahms scholar, essentially conservative by the musical standards of the twentieth-century, but far from antiquarian. The Preludes date from 1944 after he fled the Nazis and settled in Britain. The first has a perpetuum mobile feel, remaining present if less intense in the simpler and more Brahmsian second with its insistent nagging quality; by the third the composer seems to be intermingling pain and pleasure. It’s intriguing music, McCawley fully committed to it and coping effortlessly with the technical demands

Likewise with the Chopin Nocturnes, the first lush and triste, the second more-suave. The Beethoven is more or less equidistant in date between the Haydn and the Chopin, but (despite its formalities) from McCawley it came across as much more forward-looking than back: high drama from the first bars, fierce staccato and melting fluidity, the kind of Beethoven that we might imagine Schroeder from Peanuts playing. There was further Beethoven for the encore, the C-major piece of the Opus 33 Bagatelles, amusing.

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