Frederic CHOPIN
Waltz Op. 64 No. 1 in D flat major (1847) [1.37]
Three Ecossaises Op. 72 [2.23]
Four Mazurkas Op. 6 (1830) [9.05]
Impromptu Op. 29 in A flat (1837) [3.54]
Impromptu Op. 36 in F sharp major (1840) [5.46]
Impromptu Op. 51 in G flat major (1843) [5.11]
Fantasie-Impromptu Op. posth. in C sharp minor (1834) [4.56]
Two Nocturnes Op. 27 (1836) [10.44]
Four Mazurkas Op. 17 (1833) [14.01]
Fantasie Op. 49 in F minor (1841) [11.55]
Fantasie Op. 49 in F minor # Full Performers: Leon McCawley (piano)
rec. Champs Hill, Pulborough, West Sussex, 14-15 July 2010
SOMMCD 0103 [70.27]

Leon McCawley has already recorded a wonderful disc of Schumann’s solo piano music so it is good to see that he has elected to concentrate on Chopin in the bicentenary year. The contributions to the Chopin celebrations have been varied but this disc must be among the very best. McCawley’s piano playing is exemplary throughout: wonderfully clear, expertly articulated and executed, the virtuoso demands of the works handled with ease, and with beautiful tonal contrasts.

The opening “Minute’ waltz was charming and graceful while the ensuing Ecossaises - which are rarely played by pianists nowadays - were light and playful with their technical demands handled with complete ease. McCawley really captures the joyous spirit of the dance with these works and the filigree passage-work is very well executed.

The mood changes with the Op. 6 and Op. 17 mazurkas where McCawley brings out their melancholy and introspection. Nuanced rhythmic playing, immaculately judged textural variety and artful articulation serve to bring out light and shade. McCawley really lifts the melancholy mood with the joyous and rhythmically playful third Op. 6 mazurka, while the first Mazurka of the Op. 17 set was wonderfully uplifting and affirming. McCawley ends the two sets with the profound A minor mazurka where he conjures up an atmosphere of hushed sadness.

McCawley’s virtuoso technique comes to the fore with the four impromptus; the considerable technical demands of these works were dispatched with complete ease. McCawley also displays a wonderful sense of classical poise and balance and brings out the music’s structure and architecture.

The passage-work of the first Impromptu was dispatched effortlessly and there was some lovely and playful rubato. The second Impromptu had wonderful tonal contrast. The pastoral opening was followed by a thrilling central march section but with McCawley maintaining a beautiful tone throughout. The demanding filigree passage-work at the end of the second Impromptu was played delicately, and made to sound a seamless part of the thematic material rather than mere ornamentation. The third Impromptu was graceful and tastefully played. McCawley elected to have quite a fast tempo for the Fantasie-Impromptu. The right-hand figurations were delightfully shaped and crafted and melded smoothly into the lyrical central section.

McCawley’s playing of the two nocturnes Op. 27 was again technically flawless and the tone alluring throughout. There was some impressive left-hand legato playing in the C sharp minor nocturne, while the ornamentation in the D flat was quite exquisite. For me McCawley’s playing of these works was not quite up there with the very best interpreters such as Rubinstein but very good nonetheless.

McCawley elects to finish his recital with the F minor Fantasie. This provided him with an opportunity to display his full technical repertoire: a lovely tone and phrasing, wonderful and playful tonal contrasts, and virtuoso passage-work executed with ease. The clarity of the playing was admirable throughout and once again McCawley brought out the cohesive architecture of the piece.

This is an outstanding recital. I do hope that Mr McCawley will contribute to this year’s Liszt bi-centenary (2011).

Robert Beattie

An outstanding recital.