On the face of it, an issue such as this - a three-CD set of the complete solo piano music of Kenneth Leighton, who died in 1988 aged 58 - is an act of considerable faith on the part of this young record company, but in musical terms it is both long overdue and very welcome.
Leighton never received the attention the quality of his art deserved. Since his death his music has been kept alive largely through the efforts of a group of dedicated musicians, most of whom knew him personally or were taught by him. We should be more than grateful to Angela Brownridge, who played all of this music to the composer, and studied with him, for affording us the opportunity of coming into contact with, and of studying at our own speed and to our own depths of perception, this very fine body of music.
Leighton knew the keyboard (as so few modern composers do) from the standpoint of a performing musician: his music for the instrument is always practical, yet not without occasional difficulties. Leighton rarely pushed his own music; his character was not hectoring, but subtle yet never withdrawn - one know, and I met him only twice, that one was in the presence of a gentleman with a strong inner character... this is magnificently composed music, which Brownridge plays superbly well.
The sonata [Op. 64] was written for Peter Wallfisch, the composer showing an almost intuitive understanding of the nature of sonata dynamism - an extraordinary combination of the twin twentieth-century facets of equal temperament: inherent tonality allied to serial thematicism.
Pieces for Angela (the composer's daughter, not the pianist) is more than charming - 'A Sad Folk-Song' is haunting, and 'Leap-Frog' is a delight. But it is the bigger works that naturally command the greater attention, including Conflicts (an impressive set of double-variations on two very different thematic rows), the Fantasia Contrappuntistica (with two superb concluding fugues), alongside sets of studies and variations. Yet do not overlook the delightful suite Household Pets (1981 - dedicated to the composer's dog!)
Brownridge plays superbly throughout - at all times, she is fully up to the technical, intellectual and characterizing demands of this music, and the recording quality of her instrument is consistently excellent. This issue is very strongly recommended.Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review, 6/1/2005
...the piano was very much at the centre of his creative world; piano music encompassed his entire career... this new three-disc set of Leighton's 'complete' solo piano works in excellent accounts by Angela Brownridge is immensely valuable.
His musical language was an eclectic mix, nourished by such influences as Bartók, Hindemith, Bach, Busoni, a temperate use of 12-tone procedures - and also the impressionism of Debussy, patent in the early works and transfigured in the maturity of the late ones. In a sense the piano output makes Leighton seem more of a miniaturist than in fact he was, prone to variation-sets and suites of short pieces. But the disparate movements often build to an impressive architectural unity, and the lyricism and passion are never in doubt. Wholeheartedly recommended.Calum MacDonald, BBC Music Magazine, 8/1/2005
Though perhaps best known now for his church music, the piano was very much at the centre of his creative world; piano music encompassed his entire career, from the two Sonatinas of opus 1 (1946) to the set of Preludes he was writing at his death 42 years later.
His musical language was an eclectic mix, nourished by such influences as Bartók, Hindemith, Bach, Busoni, a temperate use of 12-tone procedures – and also the impressionism of Debussy, patent in the early works and transfigured in the maturity of the late ones. In a sense the piano output makes Leighton seem more a miniaturist than in fact he was, prone to variation-sets and suites of short pieces (there are 78 separate tracks to consider). But the disparate movements often build to an impressive architectural unity, and the lyricism and passion are never in doubt. Among the most impressive pieces here are the 1956 ‘Homage to Bach’ that he entitled Fantasia Contrappuntistica – though it’s on nothing like the scale of Busoni’s work of that name – and the Piano Sonata of 1972: Leighton’s third, but his reluctance to number it suggests he rather disowned Sonatas 1 and 2 from 1948 and 1953, which would be a pity if so, for they’re attractive works. The late studies and preludes suggest a composer still fascinated by the tactile experience of working with the most basic stuff of music, with tones and intervals and textures; and altogether the set provides plenty of food for thought and pieces to return to repeatedly. Calum MacDonald, Tempo, 1/1/2006