Natural Connections
Leon McCawley, piano

A perfect prelude to Spring, this delightful new release from British pianist Leon McCawley presents solo piano music inspired by the natural world.

Nature and the seasons provide eternal inspiration for composers, and here we have ‘the best of the best’ – from Liszt to Ravel, Grieg to Debussy, and more in a generous recital album of some of the most beautiful, evocative, and much-loved music ever written for the piano.

Leon McCawley

Leon McCawley © Anna Paik

The selection of pieces, mostly atmospheric miniatures, takes a roughly seasonal approach, beginning with Sindling’s Rustle of Spring, which evokes nature waking up after the winter. While Tchaikovsky’s Song of the Lark (March, from The Seasons) is a poignant reminder that the chill of winter may still intrude upon sunny spring days. Liszt brings the fresh, clear waters of lakes and streams alive in Au lac de Wallenstadt and Au bord d’une source, two of three pieces from his Swiss Années de pèlerinage, which evoke the beauty and clarity of the Alps, while his Orage (Storm) reminds us how the weather can suddenly change in the Alpine landscape. Debussy’s Jardins sous la Pluie places a rain shower in a more domestic, yet equally atmospheric setting. Water provides further opportunities for evocative music, from the magical play of fountains and sparkling light on water (Liszt’s Les jeux d’eau à la villa d’Este and Ravel’s Jeux d’eau) to a joyful voyage on the sea (Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse).

Franz Liszt: Années de pèlerinage, 3rd year, S163/R10: No. 4. Les jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este (The Fountains of the Villa d’Este) (Leon McCawley, piano)

Wildlife gets a mention too. There’s Bartok’s buzzy Diary of a Fly from Mikrokosmos, Saint-Saens’ Swan, and a Butterfly by Grieg. Ravel’s Oiseaux Tristes from Miroirs casts a more melancholy light and links to Bartok’s The Night’s Music (from Out of Doors), which portrays the curious, unsettling night-time noises and rustlings of nocturnal creatures. Debussy’s Clair de lune, meanwhile, offers a more calming evocation of night-time. Step into the garden, and there are flowers in two pieces by Rachmaninov – blousy lilacs, their blooms heavy on the branch, and delicate daisies.

Rachmaninoff: Daisies Op. 38 No. 3 | Leon McCawley piano

It’s a truly delightful recording to which Leon McCawley brings his characteristic tastefulness and clarity. Water really does glitter in his hands, lyrical melodies are deftly sculpted and sensitively phrased, and every single piece on this album is communicated with great care and obvious affection. The pieces were clearly chosen for their individual charms but also their complementary attributes and stylistic connections. The result is an uplifting, joyful celebration of the wonders of the natural world, exquisitely performed by Leon McCawley.

Natural Connections (Leon McCawley, piano) album cover

Natural Connection is released on CD and via streaming on the SOMM label.

Claude Debussy: Children’s Corner: IV. The Snow is Dancing (Leon McCawley, piano)

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