Playing Schumann's violin solos as smooth as silk

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) seems to have found a neat workaround to deliver top concerts at this time when newly appointed Principal Conductor Hans Graf has not yet begun to spend more time in Singapore - that is to call upon proven guest conductors such as Finnish Hannu Lintu and partner them with strong guest soloists. For the second week running, this has worked a treat.

A Haydn symphony, Symphony No. 88, took the place of the customary overture. The similarities with last week's performance of Haydn Symphony No. 98 were intriguing, as were the differences.

Lintu commands attention from the musicians and his robust reading was energetic. He used the warm reverberance of the hall fully, judging the attack and release of notes immaculately. In the second movement, Haydn paired solo cello (Ng Pei-Sian) and oboe (Pan Yun) in unison. Their playing was fine, albeit a touch romantic.

The Minuet has a special place in a Haydn symphony but under Lintu, the outer sections sounded ponderous and out of character with this rustic minuet, with its drone-like sections. This was short-lived though and the SSO followed up with a sparkling finale.

Canadian sensation Kerson Leong made his SSO debut with the Schumann Violin Concerto, one of the composer's final works. The concerto has an unusual story behind it. It was rejected by its dedicatee, violinist Joseph Joachim as being too closely associated with Schumann's madness in his last days. Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, executors of Schumann's estate, later mandated that it should not be performed until 1956. But this embargo was not to be and the concerto premiered in 1937.

Leong plays on a gloriously warm-sounding Guaneri del Gesu violin and the influence of his mentor Augustin Dumay was clear in his rich tone, fluid bowing and natural lines. At just 22, he displays remarkable mastery of the violin.

On listening to the concerto, some sense as to why Joachim refused to premiere it emerges, as the work is both melancholy and searching, with long passages that can sound rambling. Even with Leong's fine playing, the concerto did not have the accessibility of Shumann's piano and cello concertos.

  • REVIEW / CONCERT

  • KERSON LEONG PLAYS SCHUMANN

    Singapore Symphony Orchestra - Hannu Lintu (conductor), Kerson Leong (violin)

    Victoria Concert Hall/Last Thursday

Leong's ability to play Schumann's extended solo sections as smooth as silk was a highlight, though this felt overdone by the end of the concerto. A return performance in a concerto that shows more dimensions of the soloist would be welcome.

The second half of the concert consisted of Symphony No. 1 by Franz Schubert. Completed over 20 years after the earlier Haydn symphony, Schubert's melodic gift shows in this work, which was completed when he was 16 years old.

The question of how an early Schubert symphony should sound in contrast to a late Haydn symphony was brilliantly answered in Lintu's performance. His Schubert was youthful and energetic and captured Schubert's lyricism wonderfully, with the musicians fully at ease with his direction. The minuet, played at a brisk pace with some kick, was a delight.

The close of the bubbly finale was greeted by warm applause from an audience that was sparser than usual, but clearly knew its music and enjoyed the evening.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2019, with the headline 'Playing Schumann's violin solos as smooth as silk'. Print Edition | Subscribe