James Ehnes is almost without question the finest violinist of
his generation. As his career grows and he adds maturity to his
immense talent, he will surely soon rank as one of the greatest
in history. Possessed of a flawless technique - British violinist
Jack Liebeck once told me that his playing was “bulletproof” -
and peerless musicality, Ehnes has a remarkable ability to shift
from style to style with complete ease and facility. Whether playing
big romantic concertos with the world’s finest orchestras or in
this recital with piano, Ehnes is totally in his element, pulling
off challenge after challenge with utter ease, poise and control.
this combination of French masterpieces and Spanish fluff,
Ehnes shows off both his serious side and his penchant for
flashy showmanship. He pulls both off with aplomb and good
taste. Joined by pianist Wendy Chen for a collection of staples
from the impressionist canon, Ehnes plays with spot on intonation
and natural sound. Of particular merit is the Ravel Sonata,
which flows from dreamy to sexy to almost raunchy with its
blues movement. Ehnes plays with silky elegance while not
eschewing a foray or two into pure cabaret sensuality. Saint-Saëns’
more classic harmonies make for a pleasant contrast to all
the languid impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. A composer
that should be far more respected than he is, Saint-Saëns
never ceases to amaze as one of the true musical craftsmen
of his era. There is nary a genre in which he is not completely
fluent. His writing is idiomatic, his sense of form and structure
are all but flawless and his works have a way of sticking
to your musical ribs in a way few other composers’ music can.
Ehnes and Chen spin out line after seamless line to make this
tuneful showpiece a thrilling ending to the first disc of
on disc two by his long time recital partner Eduard Laurel,
Ehnes gives us a sizable program of virtuoso gems from two
of the better nineteenth century musical circus acts, Wieniawski
and Sarasate. If you are seeking depth and profundity here
you won’t find it, but you will leave the room satisfied with
some catchy tunes and amazed at how easily James Ehnes can
execute every technical magic trick in the book. I confess
that I am not really as in love with this music as I am the
French, but one cannot help but sit back in awe of just how
well this music is performed. Alas, Mr. Laurel, who has in
other outings proven himself to be a pianist of exceptional
abilities, does not get to shine in the way that Ms. Chen
does in the more demanding works of the first disc. Nonetheless
he seems to have a good time and plays with panache.
date, I have not found a bad recording in all the discs that
Mr. Ehnes has released and this is no exception. Now that
he has recorded a great deal of the classic repertoire, it
would be great fun to hear him tackle some more modern works.
Maybe Paul Moravec will compose a sonata or concerto for Mr.
Ehnes. Good idea, no?