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Sonatina No.2 Op.1b
Fives Studies Op.22
Fantasia Contrappuntistica Op.24
Pieces for Angela Op.47
Four Romantic Pieces Op.95
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)

By all counts Kenneth Leighton was a fine pianist and throughout his composing life he regularly wrote for the piano. His first acknowledged works are the two sonatinas written in 1946 and 1947 (respectively Op.1a and Op.1b) and one of his very last works is the Four Romantic Pieces Op.95 written in 1986 which the composer first performed in 1987 and which he recorded for the B.M.S. somewhat later. In the intervening years his piano output grew steadily including a number of considerable achievements such as the Five Studies Op.22, the Fantasia Contrappuntistica Op.24, the two "numbered" sonatas (Op.2 - 1948 and Op.17 - 1953), three sets of variations (Op.30 - 1955, Op.36 - 1959 and Op.56 - 1969) and the magnificent Sonata Op.64 of 1972.

As Bryce Morrison observes in his excellent notes, "the fecundity, variety and inventiveness of his writing suggest not only a lively if often dark imagination but a scope given to remarkably few British keyboard composers". In Leighton's piano music there is as much continuity as variety.

This chronologically laid-out recital usefully presents an excellent survey of Leighton's music over a span of nearly forty years. Rhythmic liveliness is present from first to last - note the outer movements of the youthful Sonatina No.2 as well as the last movement of the Four Romantic Pieces, a powerful Toccata in all but the name. Similarly the lyrical strains of the slow movement of the Second Sonatina are much in evidence in the slower sections of the other works albeit in deeper, richer vein.

Sentiment is never absent from Leighton's music though it may have some Northern ruggedness which eschews any superficial sentimentality. Thus the Five Studies open with a powerful prelude followed by two lighter, more animated movements leading into the emotional heart of the work, i.e. the long, searching fourth study, the tension of which is partly relieved by the final Toccata. The mighty Fantasia Contrappuntistica which won its composer the Busoni Prize is yet another example of a carefully crafted piece which may be considered as one of the main milestones in Leighton's piano music.

Pieces for Angela (1966) is a set of eight short, compact pieces for gifted amateurs and might thus be compared with Walton's delightful Music for Children. However things are never as simple as that. Whereas Walton drew on the imagination of children's games and emotions, Leighton digs deeper into his own psychology and Pieces for Angela have a terseness and at times an austerity quite alien to children and to Walton.

Leighton recorded his Four Romantic Pieces for the B.M.S. It was then clear that he was in full command of his craft both as a composer and as a performer. The four pieces constitute another sizeable achievement equalling some of the preceding piano works. Romantic they are but in Leighton's inimitable way. To quote Bryce Morrison again, "Leighton's music is, indeed, distinctive music which satisfies the intellect as it liberates the spirit".

What else can be added? Margaret Fingerhut plays beautifully throughout and this CD is yet another well-deserved tribute to a most distinguished composer whose death in 1988 was a great loss indeed.

Hubert Culot

See also review by Colin Anderson

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