Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux); 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80; Six Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 34; Andante, WoO 57

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux); 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80; Six Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 34; Andante, WoO 57
PERFORMER: Leon McCawley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBM 3003
Nimble is the word that springs to mind here. Leon McCawley first attracted attention when he was a finalist at the Leeds Competition a few years ago. The variation sets he has chosen exemplify Beethoven as a popular composer-pianist and improviser, and even the 32 Variations in C minor are more about brilliance and excitement than profundity. In the early variations McCawley’s soft staccato is immaculate, his trills in the ninth smooth and melting, after which he unleashes some power, though he is never rough and his sound is always polished. You might expect something a bit more rugged in the Pathétique Sonata, but that is not McCawley’s style. He seems conscious that this is still an 18th-century work, even though the shoddy booklet note describes Beethoven as ‘tempestuous’ and ‘moody’ and, rather unnecessarily, as a ‘profound womaniser’. McCawley has a nice way of momentarily easing the pulse around the cross-hands passages, and the Adagio is kept gently moving. His restraint in Les adieux makes for a rather mild first movement and a lightweight middle one, both with less forceful contrasts than one often hears, but the finale is agile and brilliant. The Andante favori, discarded as a slow movement for the Waldstein Sonata, is a genial piece, genially played, while the Op. 34 Variations are full of florid elaborations, expertly negotiated. The recorded piano sound is beautiful but recessed, so that the instrument sounds a bit lonely. Adrian Jack

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