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: Sonatina No.2, Five Studies Op.22, Fantasia Contrappuntistica Op.24, Pieces for Angela Op.47, Four Romantic Pieces Op.95
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)
CHANDOS CHAN 9818 [67' 12"]

Wakefield-born Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) was an excellent pianist himself. His idiomatic writing for the piano is apparent throughout this fine recital by the ever-adventurous Margaret Fingerhut.

Leighton was a prolific composer who wrote for orchestra (there are three symphonies), chamber groups, choirs, solo voices and, of course, piano. There's enough music in this last category for Fingerhut to make a second CD, which I hope she will.

What stands out in the choice of pieces for this CD is the variety of expression Leighton commands within the individual frameworks of these diverse works. There's a linear clarity to his writing that allows the most complex of passages to remain lucid for the listener, and Leighton's musical language, while quite personal harmonically, is assuredly romantic and lyrical. Leighton's constantly engaging material is tightly controlled and always clear in its direction.

Leighton's use of traditional forms, of which he demonstrates impressive command, and his contrapuntal mastery, does not inhibit him from writing music that is powerfully communicative and suggestive. Leighton is very much his own man, but for reference I would suggest that Hindemith and Prokofiev (and to a lesser extent Bartok) might be heard as external influences, with Lennox Berkeley and Walton as ones closer to home.

For all his clarity of thought, Leighton uses the full compass of the piano, relishing the extended tonal palette that Liszt and Busoni savoured. The powerful, dark Four Romantic Pieces (really a four-movement Sonata) are intense, troubled, meditative and fiercely rhythmic. The initially sparse world of the third piece has a hypnotic atmosphere all its own. Forty years earlier, the 1947 Sonatina No.2 is pungently expressive, rhythmically ingenious and attractively good-natured. The slow movement's simple song is very touching. The Five Studies are serious in mood and satisfyingly complex for the listener. After the relatively straightforward writing of the Sonatina, the demands placed upon the pianist in these Studies are considerable - Fingerhut is not found wanting. A very young Maurizio Pollini (just 14) premiered the Fantasia Contrappuntistica in 1956. In this `homage to Bach' Leighton extends the Bach/Busoni legacy in a single movement of contrasting sections that build a constantly evolving structure, one that is powerfully cumulative and rigorously controlled. A worthy companion to Busoni's piano work of the same name. The eight exquisite miniatures that make up Pieces for Angela could not offer more contrast. Simple, witty, beguiling and characteristic, Leighton speaks directly to the listener and holds the attention because he has something intrinsic to say and says it with the minimum of fuss but with considerable warmth and charm.

Not having heard too much of Leighton's music in the past, this CD has been a revelation to me. This is seriously good music. Fingerhut's renditions and Chandos's sound are respectively devoted and excellent. If you still need persuading then I must borrow from Bryce Morrison's notes when he quotes that Leighton's `distinctive music satisfies the intellect as it liberates the spirit'.


Colin Anderson



Colin Anderson

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