Kerson Leong: Bis - Music for Violin and Piano
Hot on the heels of the astonishing Leonidas Kavakos and his unfashionable programme of violin encores (Decca, 6/16) comes a second collection. This one of 13 titles (20 tracks) consists entirely of transcriptions, with the exceptions of Achron’s Hebrew Melody and the two Kreisler bonbons, and is the first recording by 19-year-old Ottawa-born Kerson Leong. A multiple prize-winner in his native country and the Junior First Prize winner of the 2010 Menuhin Competition in Oslo, this young man clearly has a big future in front of him.
If multi-composer discs of short pieces and transcriptions seem to have fallen out of favour, so has the kind of heart-on-sleeve playing such as you encounter here, with its judicious use of portamento and a seductively silky tone that put me in mind of Mischa Elman. Leong is particularly effective in the long-drawn cantilenas of the famous ‘Mélodie’ from Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck-Kreisler), ‘Vocalise’ (Rachmaninov-Press) and Wilhelmj’s ecstatic version of Wagner’s Albumblatt, all of which are invested with a beguiling vocal quality. It is this lyrical character that dominates (Leong is well served by the ‘ex-Auer’ Strad he had on loan for the recording), with none of the jaw-dropping acrobatics of Kavakos. In fact, when Leong does raise the temperature (and then only by a few degrees – Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dance No 1, Kreisler Liebesfreud), the microphone placement seems to change slightly so that he and the self-effacing Philip Chiu sound marginally more distant in the empty confines of Quebec’s St Augustin-de-Mirabel church than they are in the more intimate pieces.
Analekta’s booklet says nothing of the music but an interview with Kerson Leong reveals that his aim for his debut album is ‘to balance flavours, to juxtapose lesser-known pieces with some that people would instantly recognise and could relate’. In its modest ambition, the disc succeeds admirably.