Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A highly recommendable new recording of violin concertos by Britten and Shostakovich from James Ehnes on a new release from Onyx Classics

James Ehnes www.jamesehnes.com was born in 1976 in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. He began violin studies at the age of four, and at age nine became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin. He later studied with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music before studying at The Juilliard School.

He has won numerous awards and prizes, including the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award, the Canada Council for the Arts’ Virginia Parker Prize, and a 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant. In October 2005, James was honoured by Brandon University with a Doctor of Music degree (honoris causa) and in July 2007 he became the youngest person ever elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada. On July 1st 2010, the Governor General of Canada appointed James a Member of the Order of Canada.

James Ehnes has already recorded the Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Elgar, Barber, Walton and Korngold concertos for Onyx www.onyxclassics.com as well as Paganini’s 24 Caprices. His Elgar concerto disc won the Gramophone Concerto Award 2008.

Now Ehnes turns his attention to Britten’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto in a new release from Onyx Classics with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra www.bsolive.com conducted by Kirill Karabits www.kirillkarabits.com .

ONYX 4113

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) www.brittenpears.org  got to know Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) www.shostakovich.ru  www.shostakovich.org  through his friendship with the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich http://rostropovich.org . This was not until the 1960’s so it is strange that one hears occasional hints of Shostakovich in this early work by Britten.

Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra provide a poetic opening before a sweet toned Ehnes enters in the Moderato con moto of Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op.15.  In the second subject, Ehnes never loses his beauty of tone whilst delivering a more cutting edge. As the music develops, Ehnes is lovely in the quiet delicate passages. The BSO under Karabits provide first rate accompaniment in the rather Shostakovich sounding Vivace second movement. Ehnes is on top form making light of all the technical difficulties in a really dynamic performance. The cadenza is marvellously done, Ehnes bringing out all the various violinistic effects to great effect. In the Passacaglia: Andante lento (Un poco meno mosso), Ehnes, Karabits and the BSO build the music brilliantly. The moody interludes have a wonderfully strong atmosphere. The loose structure is well held together so that, when the big tune arrives it sounds natural, as though all that preceded it has come together. There is some great orchestral playing here and, when Ehnes joins after the climax, what a lovely tone he has. In the coda, Ehnes provides some superb sounds with those lovely harmonics.

Surely Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77 is one of his greatest works. There is a rich dark orchestral opening to the Nocturne: Moderato before Ehnes enters, full of emotional tension in this brooding music.  Ehnes draws lots of little subtleties from the music with some beautifully hushed moments from both violin and orchestra. This movement is terrifically well paced as the music builds with the brooding atmosphere never far away.  There is a bubbly but almost grotesque opening to the Scherzo: Allegro  with the orchestra, particularly, adding to this feel. Ehnes is superb in this pretty challenging movement as it builds to its gypsy rhythms with never any let up for the soloist. Shostakovich’s wonderful Passacaglia: Andante third movement is so well played by the BSO under Karabits, an enormous outpouring of feeling, grief even, and superbly handled by Ehnes.

As if any further proof was needed of Ehnes’ technique, here is a further evidence of what a superb violinist he is in this extended cadenza. It is no obvious showpiece, but there is a display of great musicianship and technique. There is a fabulously played Burleque: Allegro con brio – Presto Allegro – Presto that for all its unstoppable momentum and breathtaking virtuosity is perfectly paced.

Though this new release cannot replace the legendary Oistrakh it is up there with the best currently available. With a recording from the Lighthouse, Poole, that is stunningly vivid, and with excellent booklet notes by Malcolm MacDonald, this new release is highly recommended.

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