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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major, K. 207 [21:15]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K. 211 [21:20]
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 [24:28]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218 [23:39]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, "Turkish", K. 219 [29:19]
Rondo in B-flat major, K. 269/261a [7:17]
Rondo in C major, K. 373 [5:53]
Adagio in E major, K. 261 [8:27]
Mozart Anniversary Orchestra/James Ehnes (violin)
rec. George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 18-21 August 2005
ONYX 4164 [64:57 + 78:14]

James Ehnes recorded this set of the Mozart Concertos back in 2005 with a contingent of players drawn from prestigious North American orchestras. It first appeared on CBC Records but had relatively limited distribution and now, after more than a decade and with Ehnes more prominent on the world’s stages than ever before, it’s been taken over by Onyx Classics.

The balance between the relatively small band – there are no details of the orchestra’s string distribution but it’s chamber sized – and Ehnes’ solo violin has been finely judged. The bass line is strongly defined but not overpopulated and there’s real elegance and precise articulation throughout. In the G major concerto Ehnes’ focused ine and patrician instincts as regards phrasing are products of a mature and sophisticated approach to the music. He ensures the orchestral pizzicati in the finale are together, given that he hasn’t employed a conductor, and he never overdoes things, remaining almost Grumiaux-like in his stylistic accomplishment.

The D major is buoyant and its slow movement is lightly bowed, with vibrato reduced both in width and speed. There’s a classical serenity about this kind of performance where expression derives from clarity not weight. The drone effects of the Turkish are once again not overdone, and there’s real lyric pliancy in the Adagio. Predictably the Janissary music in the finale is pointed but not, as it is sometimes, overnuanced or made to sound operatically comic. The playing remains crisp, clean, refined, clear – sometimes, therefore, missing some of the wittier inflections or – as in the slow movement of the D major, K218 – some of the more expressively open-hearted writing. Ehnes contributes all the cadenzas and they are stylish and tactfully brief.

There’s an especially compellingly voiced B flat major slow movement that reflects all of Ehnes’ virtues in this repertoire. He draws its aria-like beauty with pellucid sympathy and is similarly pliant in K211. The three concerted pieces – the Adagio in E major, and the two Rondos – are also persuasively realised. Though these are modern instrument performances they have a clarified quality that shows that Ehnes has been listening to, and has to an extent absorbed, the priorities of period instrument performance. It remains an attractive set.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Simon Thompson



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