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Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929 – 1968)
Piano Trio Op.46 (1965)
Partita for Cello and Piano Op.35 (1959)
Metamorphoses for Violin and Piano Op.48 (1965/6)
Elegy for Cello and Piano Op.5 (1949)
Lorraine McAslan (violin); Andrew Fuller (cello); Michael Dussek (piano)
Recorded: Henry Wood Hall, London, September 2001
DUTTON CDLX 7118 [77:00]
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Leighton composed his large-scale Partita for Cello and Piano Op.35 in 1959. The first movement Elegy opens with a dark ostinato in the piano over which the cello plays a long arched phrase. Indeed the whole movement is a large-scale arch form moving towards a powerful climax followed by a quieter coda Quasi una marcia bringing the movement to its peaceful conclusion. This is followed by a nervous Scherzo of some considerable complexity ending with a muted coda. The third movement is a weighty theme and six contrasting variations the last of which Chorale eventually achieves some hard-won reconciliation.

Composed in 1965, the Piano Trio Op.46 also has three movements in which the thematic material is developed from motifs heard at the outset of the first movement. To some extent, the whole work is also some sort of theme and variations, a favourite form in Leighton’s music. The first movement Allegro has a good deal of harmonic ambiguity. Again, the second movement is a nervous Scherzo with a lyrical trio. The reprise of the Scherzo main material leads into the long final movement Hymn slowly building-up towards a mighty climax before reaching a peaceful resolution.

The theme-and-variations structure is still carried a step further in Metamorphoses for Violin and Piano Op.48 completed in 1966. The continuous variations however fall into three main sections of which the central one is another capricious Scherzo of some intensity followed by two slow, meditative variations which eventually "seek for reconciliation rather than culmination" (pace the composer).

These substantial works, from Leighton’s mature years, are highly typical of this composer’s musical thinking, and intellectual rigour and strict organisation never exclude intense expression characterising Leighton’s rugged lyricism. No matter how complex it may be, Leighton’s music always communicates in the most persuasive way.

The much earlier Elegy for Cello and Piano Op.5 dates from 1949. It was originally conceived as the slow movement of a cello sonata which was never completed. It is a comparatively simpler work, but still a telling example of Leighton’s lyricism in his early career. A beautifully moving piece in its own rights that has – quite deservedly so – become popular with cellists.

The major works recorded here all belong to Leighton’s finest achievements. They clearly inhabit the same emotional world, often a dark or pessimistic one, but one that is given a sincere, humane expression. Leighton’s music is never indifferent. It always strongly communicates with passion and intensity. All the pieces here certainly strongly communicate thanks also to committed and dedicated performances that make the best of these wonderful works. I now hope that Dutton and these players might be persuaded to record Leighton’s Piano Quartet Op.63 and Piano Quintet Op.34 as well as the violin sonatas. An outright recommendation. This one will be in my Top Ten for 2002.

Hubert Culot

 


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