Kerson Leong plays Britten and Bruch

Kerson Leong plays Britten and Bruch

This is fascinating programming: Britten's woefully under-rated Violin Concerto coupled with Bruch's famous G-<inor Concerto. What the cover doen’t tell you is that ther eis a third piece, Bruch’s In Memoriam, Op. 65.

Here’s the promo video:

In Leong's words:

The Britten expresses.a raw and exposed experience, while the Bruch is comforting and uplifting. After the last few years in which teh world has experienced much difficulty and uncertainty due to a pandemic, war, and crisis, recording this album in January 2022 ... was a prfoundly cathartic moment. It is inthe spirit of catharsis that I offer this album.

Britten’s Violin Concerto was written in 1939, with the Second World War looming in Europe. Britten was only 25 at the time. The first movement is complex, and has a cloud over it. Ostinati imply, perhaps, a sense of dread:

.. and the spiky Scherzo is full of energy, teh Philharmonia Orchesyta under Patrick Hahn on top form. tehre is almost an element of Shostakovich about this music - no wonder the two composers got on so well!. Sudden interjections from percussion and brass are all-Britten, though:

Interestingly, both Britten and Shostakovich were enamoured of the Passacaglia (ground bass) form, and indeed the finale here is a poignant, powerful, dark Passacaglia, closing with the most remarkable violin cadenza, deeply performed by Leong:

This nearly quarter-hour finale contains moments of depest introspection (beautifully, convincingly done by Leong). In fact, it is clear Leong gives his all in the many high-flying, almost declamatory lines.

Kerson Leong, photo © Marco Borggreve

Bruch's In Memoriam is remarkable, and surely virtuoally unknown. It feels, over the course of its quarter-hour duration, almost like another aspoect of catharsis - as if the protagonist, the violin soloist, is working their way through the stages of grief. It is shot through with Bruch's characteristic melodic gift, now funnelled through one of the deepest processes a human can go through. Interesting how the composer's orchestration is so close to that of the famous Concerto:

While Leong's performance of the Bruch G-Minor Violin Concerto won't topple the greats, it has plenty of spirit. Interesting how one hears the orchestra's repeated anacrusic underpinning of the solo line as insistent if one has heard the Britten before it. A fine idea to put these two together. Listen to the beautiful Philharmonia wind contributions, too:

Leong does find the still heart of the opening of the slow movement, and together with Hahn builds nicely to the brass-led climax (between six and seven minutes in):

The orchestral preparation for the violinist's entrance in the finale is brilliantly done, full of pregnant energy that is relweased in that famous theme. Kerson's stopping is excellent:

A couple of bonuses. Here's Leong in Bruch's First Concerto, live in Brussels:

... and here's alive performance of part of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy:

Both Leong's previous release for Alpha Classics was the Ysaye Solo Violin Sonatas; but do hear this for the Britten.