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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Felix Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto; String Octet (James Ehnes)


Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
  1. Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: 1. Allegro molto appassionato
  2. Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: 2. Andante
  3. Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: 3. Allegretto non troppo - Allegro molto vivace
  4. String Octet in E flat major, Op. 20: 1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
  5. String Octet in E flat major, Op. 20: 2. Andante
  6. String Octet in E flat major, Op. 20: 3. Scherzo
  7. String Octet in E flat major, Op. 20: 4. Presto

James Ehnes, violin
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor (1-3)

Musicians of the Seatle Chamber Music Society (4-7)
James Ehnes, Eric Keefe, Andrew Wan, Augustin Hadelich (violins)
Cynthia Phelps, Richard O'Neill (violas)
Robert deMaine, Edward Arron (cellos)

Date: 2010
Label: Onyx



A revealing reading of a much-loved concerto

Bringing something new to established repertoire: surely that’s the ultimate test of any artist. If so, James Ehnes has done it again, in a Mendelssohn coupling identical to Daniel Hope’s (though the British violinist performed the unfamiliar earlier edition of the Concerto).

The first thing that hits you about Ehnes’s reading is the rhythmic propulsion of the concerto’s outer movements, which lifts the music, revealing its glorious bone structure. In the hands of lesser musicians than Ehnes and Ashkenazy this could simply sound fast, yet there is so much compelling, beautifully observed phrasing that the effect is instead completely uplifting. It’s there again in the first movement of the Octet, and once more the sense is of a joyous, exhilarating ride rather than anything overly driven. Ehnes is a musician of consummate imagination (and technique!) coupled with a lack of ego that is completely winning. Just sample the way he and his Seattle Chamber Music colleagues judge the coda of the Octet’s Allegro moderato ma con fuoco. Con fuoco indeed.

Another aspect which is particularly winning is the creaminess of Ehnes’s lower register, so you really appreciate the lows (literally) as well as the highs in the Concerto. The Andante movements of both works are characterised by a caressing but never cloying approach (a million miles away from Mutter’s recent live recording of the concerto). I continue to return to Joshua Bell for his irresistible sound in the Concerto’s slow movement, and to Hilary Hahn for a freshness comparable to Ehnes, but this is absolutely up there with the best of them.

As for the Octet, sample the Scherzo and see if you’re not won over. Of course, everyone has their own favourite in this much-recorded work, but I certainly don’t plan to live without this new version.

-- Harriet Smith, Gramophone

More reviews:
MusicWeb International  RECORDING OF THE MONTH


Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was among the most popular composers of the Romantic era. Like Mozart, he was recognized early as a musical prodigy. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, visited there ten times. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries.


James Ehnes (born January 27, 1976 in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada) is a Canadian concert violinist. Ehnes began his violin studies at the age of four and at age nine became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin. He studied with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music and from 1993 to 1997 at The Juilliard School. His recordings have won numerous awards and prizes, including 9 Junos, a Grammy, and a Gramophone Award. Ehnes performs on the 1715 "Marsick" Stradivarius.


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