Leon McCawley (piano) – Celebrating the new piano!

Cockermouth Music Society’s September concert could not fail to be a crowd-puller for music lovers, given that it was the first time the new Steinway B Grand Piano had been unveiled to an enthusiastic public, and played by a wonderful pianist, Leon McCawley, who is no stranger to the town. Thanks to the generosity of local people, organizations and the Arts Council, the piano arrived without mishap in August and proved instantly to be superior in every way to the previous piano, good as that had always seemed to listeners. The new piano’s power and tone quality were exploited to the full by McCawley who performed a programme with an Italian flavour. Beginning with a set of Beethoven variations based on an Italian tune, a Beethoven Sonata followed, each movement contrasting well, particularly the sparkling Presto finale. Three of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words were played with wonderful cantabile feeling, the sound of the gondola in the second being admirably conveyed with gentle and generous tone. Chopin’s Scherzo in B flat minor had all the excitement one could wish for, but with that easy control of tempo and fireworks which McCawley always manages so beautifully. Rachmaninov’s Four Preludes from Op 23 were typical of the composer’s usual outpourings of notes but McCawley’s understanding of the pieces ensured melody lines were always clear and satisfying. Liszt’s homage to Italy, starting with the Petrarch Sonata ,was the pianist’s final choice and the clarity of the playing was allied with enormous virtuosity, the power of the piano at all times fully displayed. The enraptured audience showed their appreciation, requiring the pianist to add an appropriately beautiful encore to end a great evening.