SOMM has recently embarked on what we hope will be an extensive series of recordings with the distinguished pianist Leon McCawley. The first in this series is a recital disc of piano music by Chopin, making a timely and fitting tribute to the great composer on his 200th anniversary.
The release of our Chopin recital disc coincides with Leon McCawley’s recital in the prestigious International Piano Series on the South Bank, Queen Elisabeth Hall, London on 1st December. His chosen programme includes works by Chopin, Barber and Brahms – composers whose works he is currently recording with SOMM.
Leon McCawley begins his Chopin recital with the sparkling Waltz Op. 64 No. 1 in D-flat major which has earned the sobriquet “The Minute Waltz”; this refers more to the nature of the work as a small miniature– it would certainly be madness to attempt it in one minute! This is followed by the three very brief but delicious Ecossaises Op. 72, composed when Chopin was 16 but not published until several years after his death.
Although Chopin had moved away from his homeland never to return, he always remained attached to his Polish roots, especially in his Mazurkas. Of all the smaller works it was probably in these dance forms that one finds the very essence of Chopin and it was the nationalistic Mazurka from which he seems to have drawn special inspiration. He started composing Mazurkas as a student in Warsaw and continued to compose them during his entire creative span, completing well over fifty.
Included in this CD are four Mazurkas Op. 6 composed in 1830 together with the set of four Mazurkas Op. 17, published two years later.
The Impromptus have no particular Polish connection but perhaps they have indeed become as ‘Polish’ as all of Chopin’s other music. Chopin’s first Impromptu Op. 29 in A flat is in simple ternary form with a first section flowing along in triplets in typical Chopinesque filigree. The middle part is typically sostenuto embellished with a cadenza-like ornamentation.
The F-Sharp Impromptu Op. 36 is a larger composition, more in the nature of a true improvisation, with the right hand playing, at the outset, one of Chopin’s loveliest melodies. After a march-like section in D it rises to a fortissimo climax eventually modulating back to the original key.
The G-flat Impromptu, Op. 51, is the least popular of the four, possibly due to its difficulty. After the opening figure in triplets, the double notes add complications and the left hand is equally difficult to negotiate. The E-flat minor Trio has an expressive melody in the bass with an accompanying triplet figure in the right hand.
Chopin sought to destroy several manuscripts of the Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66, considering it below his standard. In spite of his misgivings, it became one of his most popular pieces both with performers and audiences. The four-note figure in the right hand over triplets in the left as well as the perpetual motion of the figuration demand a keen ear and sensitivity as well as a pianist with fleet fingers. The middle section in D-flat has achieved dubious immortality as “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’!
Leon McCawley includes two Nocturnes Opus 27: No. 1 in C-sharp minor composed in 1835 and No. 3 in D flat-major composed in 1836. The first is beautifully reflective and imbued with gentle melancholy, with an impassioned central section. The second builds in intensity and texture before culminating in a coda with a technically problematic but musically effective ending of groups of seven notes in the right hand rising against groups of six in the left.
The final piece in McCawley’s recital is the Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49. This is a wonderful single movement piece composed in 1841. It opens with a dark, march-like section which strangely never re-appears but the descending scale of four notes which it introduces, provides a thread throughout the work. This is immediately followed by a brilliant improvisatory section with cross rhythms as well as surging syncopated melodies modulating through several keys and bringing with it a sense of mystery and unease. The hymn-like central section is an oasis of repose.
English pianist Leon McCawley leapt into prominence when he won First Prize in the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and Second Prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition at the age of nineteen, in 1993.
Since then, McCawley has given highly acclaimed recitals that include London’s Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Lincoln Center New York, Prague Rudolfinum and Vienna Musikverein. McCawley performs frequently with many of the top British orchestras and has performed several times at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. He broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 in recital and with many of the BBC orchestras. Further afield he has performed with Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Vienna Symphony among many others. Conductors he has worked with include Daniele Gatti, Paavo Jarvi, Kurt Masur and Simon Rattle.
McCawley’s wide-ranging discography has received many accolades including two “Editor’s Choice” awards in Gramophone and a Diapason d’Or for his boxed set of The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas.
McCawley studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also worked with Nina Milkina in London. He is a professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music.
On This Recording
- Waltz No. 6: Waltz No. 6 in D-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1, “Minute”
- 3 Ecosissaises: No. 1 in D Major
- 3 Ecosissaises: No. 2 in G Minor
- 3 Ecosissaises: No. 3 in D-Flat Major
- Mazurka No. 1: Mazurka No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 6, No. 1
- Mazurka: Mazurka No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 6, No. 2
- Mazurka No. 3: Mazurka No. 3 in E Major, Op. 6, No. 3
- Mazurka No. 4: Mazurka No. 4 in E-Flat Minor, Op. 6, No. 4
- Impromptu No. 1: Impromptu No. 1 in A-Flat Major, Op. 29
- Impromptu No. 2: Impromptu No. 2 in F-Sharp Major, Op. 36
- Impromptu No. 3: Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major, Op. 51
- Fantasy-Impromptu: Fantasy-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66
- Nocturne No. 7: Nocturne No. 7 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 1
- Nocturne No. 8: Nocturne No. 8 in D-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2
- Mazurka No. 10: Mazurka No. 10 in B-Flat Major, Op. 17, No. 1
- Mazurka No. 11: Mazurka No. 11 in E Minor, Op. 17, No. 2
- Mazurka No. 12: Mazurka No. 12 in A-Flat Major, Op. 17, No. 3
- Mazurka No. 13: Mazurka No. 13 in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4
- Fantasy: Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49