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Kenneth Leighton 75th Anniversary Concert
Purcell Room 5 November 2004

S Bach Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (Das wohltemperierte Klavier I)
Improvisations 'De Profundis', Op 76 for harpsichord 1st London performance
J S Bach
Prelude and Fugue in B minor (Das wohltemperierte Klavier I)
Fantasia Contrappuntistica (Homage to Bach) for piano


Elegie for cello and piano;
Sonata for Four Hands, Op 92;
Alleluia Pascha Nostrum
, Op 85 for cello and piano

Maggie Cole harpsichord
Andrew Zolinsky piano
Raphael Wallfisch cello
John York piano
Kesh Piano Duo
(Heejung Kim & Esther Sofaer)

The distinguished composing life of Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) was celebrated in Blackheath when he would have been 70, and now by the Park Lane Group, in their Anniversary Series, to note what would have been his 75th birthday.

The programme was shrewdly built, concentrating on his writing for keyboard (he was a masterly pianist) and for cello. John Woolf's recruiting flair brought four pianists to the platform, plus Maggie Cole with her harpsichord to give a major London premiere. Andrew Zolinsky revived the large scale Fantasia Contrappuntistica, which the young Maurizio Pollini had premiered in 1956, winning the Busoni Prize.

The second half raised the temperature. Raphael Wallfisch and John York revived two highly expressive pieces, Alleluia Pascha Nostrum, Op 85 (1981) having been written for Raphael Wallfisch. But the biggest ovation was reserved for two young duo pianists who gave a wonderfully sensitive account of what must surely be one of the best of all major works for piano-four-hands, Leighton's 1985 sonata, unaccountably languishing unheard.

At the same time, the Kesh Duo was giving us a foretaste of PLG's Young Artists week in January; if many of the selected musicians prove to be of like calibre, it will be a feast indeed! Leighton's sonata solves all the problems of the tricky medium; the two players have parts that allow for individual display, both of virtuosity and of delicate shading in quieter music, and the texture is never cluttered with too many notes in the middle register. Esther Sofaer had told presenter Stephanie Hughes that she and her partner Heejung Kim hope to have opportunities to bring this unaccountably neglected masterwork to audiences everywhere.

One of the welcome features of this year's pianoworks festival at Blackheath was the inclusion of several works by Kenneth Leighton as featured composer; interesting that they chose one no longer with us for a retrospective survey. This year would have seen Leighton's 70th birthday and serves as a reminder of what a great loss his early death was to British music.

Although Leighton's large output of church music is frequently heard, the chamber and to some extent the piano music seems to languish in unaccountable obscurity. This is all the more surprising considering the fastidious craftsmanship of the music and the absolute understanding of instrumental technique (not least of the piano, of which Leighton was a considerable executant himself) - the music is very rewarding to play and poses no greater threat to a audience than late Shostakovitch. Now that the music of Alan Rawsthorne is enjoying something of a small revaluation, (at least as far as recordings are concerned), can we hope for the same to happen to Kenneth Leighton?

The performance of Leighton's Contrasts & Variants (Quartet in one movement), given by Piers Lane and members of the Vellinger Quartet, was as good an advertisement as one could wish for this music. All the players responded to the almost Waltonian longing of the slower sections and the typical jazz inflected syncopations that underpin Leighton's craggy and jumpy melodic lines. Like Rawsthorne and to some extent Arthur Bliss, there is a feeling of a nervous energy, bubbling under the surface, even in Leighton's slower movements. The overwhelming climax of the work was beautifully paced, as was the slightly quizzical, but again entirely characteristic conclusion. (David Wordsworth) - - similar good impressions were left by that composer's Fantasia on BACH for viola and piano (Yoko Inoue with Jonathan Plowright) and his Alleluia Pascha Nostrum delivered with commanding authority by Raphael Wallfisch (cello), always a welcome visitor to Blackheath Halls. (PGW)

© Peter Grahame Woolf