Review: Leon McCawley at the King’s Hall, December 4, 2019

Leon McCawley first came to national prominence in the UK in 1990 when, aged 16, he won the Piano Section of the BBC Musician of the Year competition. Three years later he won the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna. The works he played for his Ilkley Concert Club show allowed him brilliantly to showcase his talents.

Three longish compositions – a late sonata by Schubert (his D958), Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie and Brahms’ Four Klavierstücke - made up its core, with a set of shorter ones – two late fugues by Hans Gál, Schumann’s Abegg Variations and Haydn’s sonata No.54 – illuminating the periphery. As programmes go, McCawley’s was very varied, spanning two centuries. He began in the 18th century with the ever-popular Haydn, which has to be executed with the greatest precision. McCawley did not disappoint, playing its second movement with sparkling crispness. He took us next to the 19th century to hear one of Schubert’s most troubling sonatas, executed with enormous thoughtfulness. The work’s manic finale was also confidently navigated.

McCawley’s quick fingers were again evident in Schumann’s near contemporaneous and youthful set of charming variations, which he complemented with a thoughtfully restrained rendering of Gál’s two brief 20th century pieces. Then, back to the 19th century for, first, Brahms and, to conclude, Chopin. The former’s set of character pieces was played by McCawley with impressive attention to detail. The latter’s very tricky improvisatory rhythms were performed with passionate conviction and mercurial virtuosity. For an encore, McCawley flawlessly played Schumann’s dreamy Des Abends from the composer’s Fantasiestücke. McCawley smiled often as he played; his audience justifiably did too.

David Halpin