Ehnes Impresses in Britten and Shostakovich Violin Concertos

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

On paper the Britten and Shostakovich violin concertos make for an apt pair. The two composers were longtime friends who were very familiar with each other’s music. However, apart from both concertos featuring an extended passacaglia movement, the two works are quite different. Britten’s first-movement theme evokes a guarded optimism, while Shostakovich’s is unrelentingly gloomy.

James Ehnes convincingly conveys both of these states in his highly accomplished readings. No matter how wide the leap or rapid-fire the passage, Ehnes’ tone is solid, his intonation dead-on, creating a feeling of confident mastery that impresses in the Shostakovich (especially in the cadenza and finale). However, this can pay dimishing returns as Ehnes’ rendition lacks the grit and sense of challenge present in Lydia Mordkovitch’s gripping performance with Neeme Järvi (who also provides a darker and more acerbic reading of the orchestra accompaniment than does Kirill Karabits).

Ehnes’ beautiful tone and geniune feeling (his first movement is simply gorgeous) combined with Karabits’ stirring orchestral accompaniment (he really nails the passcaglia Finale) helps his Britten withstand challenges from the competition, although the composer’s own recording with Mark Lubotsky remains formidable, and still sounds suprisingly fresh today. The present recording benefits from Onyx’s realistic sound, which places the violinist in natural perspective with the orchestra. If you want these two pieces (and they actually work quite well together) Ehnes’ new recording will greatly satisfy.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Britten: Lubotsky/Britten (Decca), Jansen/P. Järvi (Decca), Shostakovich: Mordkovitch/Järvi (Chandos)

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