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Two Beethoven sonatas ensued: Op 79 in G is also not often played in recital -- yet in Howard's hands full of wonderful rhythmic subtleties, and character especially the finale's legato winding melody richly sustained, and with wistful momentum. The E major sonata Op 109 had a supple and expressive quality in which the piano's bright sonority gained a bell-like edge well suited to Beethoven's fine tracery and melodic lines. Pianistically this was a fine performance, the variations shaded with delicacy, and building affirmatively to the visionary fugue and return to peaceful contemplation.

Leslie Howard has a distinctively bright piano sound, a projection within which he works with great variety and expression, more disposed towards bravura than introspective intensity, though his moments of poetry are truly engaging. Such was the case in his excitingly paced and cogently structured interpretation of the Etudes Symphoniques by Schumann. Each variation flowed effortlessly, some textures coming across in a very impressionistic way, reminiscent of Rachmaninov.

The climax was Howard's brilliant performance of his own edition (and completion) of Liszt's Fantaisie über Themen aus Mozart's Figaro und Don Giovanni S.697 (1842), one of the gems in his monumental complete Liszt recording project on the Hyperion label that came to fruition in the Autumn of 1999. Here the simple tune of Cherubino's aria from Figaro is subject to myriad metamorphoses, alongside the quaint Minuet of the wedding scene in Don Giovanni, all of which builds a majestic structure to a breathtaking conclusion. Nonchalant, and almost without a trace of effort, Leslie Howard allowed the notes to cascade, judging the textures to shape and vary the tone even in the most demanding octave passages. Impressive pianism, and in a good cause.

Copyright © 3 April 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK





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