Gordon Back knew straight away, as he heard the first few bars of Brahms Sonata in G, that Kerson Leong was going to win the Junior First Prize at the Menuhin Competition in Oslo in 2010. As the Artistic Director who has heard thousands of talented young violinists, Gordon’s comment came across very convincingly. And now, after Saturday’s concert at Breinton, we all know Kerson is an exceptional performer.
The first half of the programme comprised of two works by Brahms, the composer Kerson feels closest to his heart. The opening piece, Scherzo in C minor, fired up sparks and grabbed the audience’s attention firmly. The Sonata in D minor was affectionate, mature, and utterly beautiful. The sound he made out of his gorgeous Stradivarius glided seamlessly and effortlessly before penetrating and settling into our senses. Andante, the 2nd movement of the Sonata, was performed with such refined tones which directly touched our core and was so lyrical and nostalgic.
Debussy’s mysterious Sonata opened the second half. It was a thrilling performance with an astonishing range of sounds. Kerson himself pointed out that sometimes it did not sound like a violin, but rather like an Asian wind instrument. It was a true collaboration of the two instruments, interweaving with each other. I loved the sophistication and high sense of rhythm demonstrated by both performers.
In a change of programme, Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances were sadly omitted. But the great news was that they were replaced by Ysaye’s solo violin Sonata No. 3 'Ballade'. It was a shivering experience; much more than showing off his flawless technicality (which on its own was so impressive with endless double-stops), it had an effective depth and breath, and emotional surge.
Kreisler’s Liebesfreud and Liebesleid followed; they lightened, freshened and changed the mood completely. Then they moved onto Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella. The heart melting Introduction followed by the playful fast-tempo Tarantella was received with more than enthusiasm by this stage. Of course, the audience would not let him go, demanding to hear more, to which Kerson responded with another Kreisler’s piece Tambourine Chinois.
What an amazing evening, and did everyone notice that he played the entire concert from memory?
And how can we describe the success of this concert without mentioning Gordon? A distinguished pianist and accompanist before becoming Artistic Director of the Competition, he seemed to know what Kerson wanted to do and how he wanted to perform, and kept the impeccable timing and balance throughout.
There were quite a few children in the audience, including some who play the violin. For them this concert was an inspiring event. The bi-annual Menuhin Competition discovers, nurtures, supports and helps young talents of the highest quality. We look forward to the event packed ten days in April 2016.