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Britten & Bruch: Violin Concertos

Britten & Bruch: Violin Concertos

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On his second album for Alpha Classics, rising star violinist Kerson Leong juxtaposes the Violin Concertos of Bruch and Benjamin Britten. This unusual pairing is a reflection on the journey from one extreme of expression to another. Bruch’s In Memoriam is the perfect bridge between them. “The Britten expresses a raw and exposed experience, while the Bruch is comforting and uplifting. After the last few years in which the world has experienced much difficulty and uncertainty due to pandemic, war, and crisis, recording this album in London in January 2021 with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Patrick Hahn was a profoundly cathartic moment. It is in the spirit of catharsis that I offer this album.” - Kerson Leong


The clincher for me was the lead work on the disc, Britten’s Violin Concerto, which actually has enjoyed a rash of recent recordings by “name” players, but none that has managed to make sense of the piece for me – or even particularly to like it. Leong changed that for me, and when an artist can overcome my resistance and make me hear a work in a different perspective, one that illuminates its beauty and elucidates its soul, that is worthy of a Want List entry.

-- Fanfare

Kerson Leong’s splendid account of the Bruch comes hot on the heels of [other recordings, but] Leong’s take on the piece is more outgoing in expression. Leong’s generosity of phrase and tone, for instance, comes unashamedly from the chest in the songful reaches of the slow movement, and in the finale where the big tune bears down on the G string he really tugs at our emotions.

The bonus addition here is Bruch’s littleheard but substantial tribute to Joseph Joachim, In memoriam, which is as turbulent as it is reflective, as befitting the legendary violinist’s fighting spirit, and gives Leong further opportunity to sing from the heart. My thoughts occasionally turned to Elgar and the more than a hint of nobilmente that it proffers.

But it is the coupling of the Britten Violin Concerto (gratifyingly becoming more and more core repertoire these days) which...sets this disc apart. The inspiration here was another violinist, Antonio Brosa, but more self-evidently, through the Spanish inflections in its material, it’s a meditation on that most divisive of civil wars – something which clearly distressed and exercised Britten, the pacifist. This is the composer at his most elegiac and unsettled (is it major or minor?) and Leong is clearly at one with its inner tussles – but also with all the extraordinary sparks of originality which make it unmistakably Britten: like the powerful coda of the first movement which pits the soloist’s abrasive pizzicato against deeply meditative strings only to have him grow more and more prayerful with the music’s ascendancy.

The kinship with Shostakovich is startling in the trenchant Scherzo, which Leong digs into with great resilience, but again the entry of the tuba with violin and piccolo in extremis high above the stave is pure Britten, as is the emotive orchestral climax.

But Leong really makes his mark with the concluding Passacaglia, a form so beloved of both Britten and Shostakovich as a metaphorical anchor in times of great stress. Suddenly psychological ambiguities are set aside and in the wake of one war Britten becomes contentious objector of all. The tragedy catches in his throat and the music of those closing pages – movingly projected by Leong – chokes on the soloist’s final utterances. With outstanding collaboration from Patrick Hahn and the Philharmonia Orchestra I can’t recall a better account of the piece than this.

-- Gramophone

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Alpha
    • UPC/Barcode: 3760014199462
    • Item Number: ALPHA946