Friday, December 31, 2010


A Fine Piano Recital

It is always a particular pleasure when an artist one has watched growing, achieves mastery. I knew Leon McCauley first as the promising student of Nina Milkina, herself, a great performer of Bach, Mozart and Chopin. Leon has developed into a great pianist himself as shown in his Queen Elizabeth Hall recital on December 1st.

He began with Janacek’s In the Mist, continued with the Brahms – Handel Variations and Fugue, Chopins Impromptus, the four of which make a satisfactory whole, finishing with Samuel Barber’s 1946 Piano Sonata.

The pianist played each of the works as if he was a specialist in that composer. In Janacek’s piece one can see through the mist to the woods and the open-air, also to the salon and the indoors. The Brahms is a happy and fruitful work; strange how one variation reminds the listener of Mussorgsky, another of César Franck!

Was the first Impromptu played too fast, not so much like a butterfly fluttering by more like a swarm of bees in a hurry. But the rest was great Chopin playing, poetic, with the harmonic and melodic intricacies as natural as plant and flower complexities in nature.

I heard the premiere of Berner’d Sonata in Britain when the late, much cherished Natasha Litvin (Lady Spender) played it. Then I thought, it rather turgidly American and overlong, but I was wrong. At seventeen minutes McCauley made it sound not a moment too long. It is romantic music, predominantly emotional, rather reactionary but cogent in its argument.

The Scherzo is brief and as memorial as the one in Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata. The fourth movement, the Finale, begins fugally, continues boogie-woggle and ends toccata-ly.

As an encore Leon played Schumann’s Warum, which, so Myra Hess once told me had to be rendered as Pourquoi? during World War One.

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