Leon McCawley is an artist of great pianistic and interpretative gifts, and one of his attractive qualities is his unassuming manner. There was nothing in his body language to suggest the enormous technical difficulties of his programme but the results were riveting.
Only a virtuoso of the highest class can hope to make a success of Brahms’ Handel Variations and that was what we heard here. The theme was laid out in the best Handelian style but thereafter all was completely Brahmsian, beautifully shaped and romantic, with well-planned contrasts between successive variations, scintillating octaves, crisp rhythms, and a wide range of tone colours and dynamics. Everything thought out so that the final fugue was a natural culmination to the classical shape of the work.
Poetic and deliciously insouciant performances of Chopin’s Four Impromptus followed, with nothing over-emphasised, Chopin’s subtlety allowed to emerge naturally rather than be underlined.
Barber’s Piano Sonata is a brilliant and bravura showpiece, but although watching it being performed with such élan and mastery was an amazing spectacle, it didn’t engage the heart as much as the head, and for me this sonata is always destined to be one of those pieces more loved by pianists than audiences. After storms of applause, calm was restored with two soothing encores.
Rating * * * *