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Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929 – 1988)
Piano Quintet Op.34 (1959)
Piano Trio Op.46 (1965)
Piano Quartet "Contrasts and Variants" Op.63 (1972)
Robert Markham (piano); Edinburgh Quartet
Recorded: no info provided, published 2003
MERIDIAN CDE 84465 [75:27]


The present release is the logical sequel to the Edinburgh Quartet’s recording of Leighton’s works for string quartet (Meridian CDE 84460 which I reviewed here some time ago).

The Piano Quintet Op.34 of 1959 is the largest piece here as well as the richest and weightiest in musical substance, although it must be said that Leighton’s music is never indifferent. In his music, form, substance and will to communicate go hand in hand; communication is at the very heart of his music. The technical and formal aspects of his music are only a means by which to achieve communication in the best possible way. The Piano Quintet and the other works here are no exceptions. As is often the case with Leighton’s music, the work is based on limited material which is constantly varied and expanded, mostly in variation form. This helps maintain a strong thematic and stylistic coherence throughout, although the composer’s resourceful handling of his basic ideas also brings considerable contrast. The Piano Quintet is in four movements of which the first one, Allegro con moto, is roughly cast in sonata form. It is followed by a beautiful, mostly elegiac, slow movement, although it again has its share of contrast and tension, particularly so at the powerful climax. It nevertheless ends in ethereal mood. This is disrupted by a short, nervous Scherzo. The final movement is cast as a Passacaglia, a form to which Leighton often returns This allows for a progressive build-up to the majestic restatement of the opening motif.

The Piano Trio Op.46 is another major work that has recently been recorded (Dutton CDLX 7118 also reviewed here some time ago). It is in three movements of fairly equal length, though ending with a weighty Hymn. The opening Allegro con moto rises to some intense climaxes, and its accumulated tension finds outlet in the central Scherzo. The final Hymn, following without a break, progressively dispels the energy and fury of the preceding movements to end in a peaceful, consolatory coda.

The subtitle (Contrasts and Variants) of the Piano Quartet Op.63 gives a fairly good idea of what the music is about. This set of variations moves through different moods, including a slightly ironic Alla valzer: ironico and a Presto precipitoso in which the music almost disintegrates into chaos; but the work – again – closes with a hymn-like section. However, things are never as simple as that, as far as Leighton’s music is concerned. Indeed, the hard-won peace is once again briefly shattered by two violent, dissonant chords before peace and calm are finally restored.

Although a number of major works (mostly orchestral) are still unrecorded, Leighton’s discography is slowly but steadily expanding, and with it our appreciation of the considerable achievement of this distinguished composer whose honesty and sincerity command respect.

Excellent performances by artists who clearly have the full measure of the music, illuminating and detailed notes by the excellent pianist Robert Markham and fine recording, if a bit on the dry side. I cannot but give the warmest recommendation to this most welcome and really superb release that no Leighton fan will want to miss.

Hubert Culot

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