August 12, 2016 | News
"That always-welcome soloist, James Ehnes?, returned to resuscitate Strauss' brilliant Violin Concerto in D minor, a product of the composer's teenage years but loaded with enough virtuosity to keep Ehnes busy and a rich-if-lumpy orchestration to back his efforts. The surrounding framework of Strauss' concerto may be leaden in format but Ehnes dazzled through his warm passion as the work's focal point: razor-keen for the Allegro, maintaining a glowing warmth in his non-stop slow movement, then switching to snappy brilliance for the finale. Throughout this work – as with pretty well everything we have heard from him in live performance – Ehnes demonstrated unflappable authority, surging past Strauss' obstacles as though they didn't exist. In short, an exhilarating experience to be relished."(The Age, 12 August 2016)
July 1, 2016 | News
The Ehnes Quartet began performance of the historic Complete String Quartets by Beethoven on June 25, 2016.
The Ehnes Quartet, comprised of James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti (violin), Richard Yongjae O’Neill (viola) and Robert DeMaine (cello), began their first performance by playing a piece from beginning, middle and end section of Beethoven String Quartet Nos. 1, 11, 13, etc. at the iBK Chamber Hall of Seoul Arts Center. It was a masterful performance of incredible collaboration.
In the beginning, which was the first movement of Beethoven String Quartet No. 1, the first impression of Ehnes Quartet was light and controlled. The two violins seemed as one. The violin tones of the Ehnes Quartet enraptured the listeners. In the slow second movement, the instruments continued as if privately conversing in whispers to one another. At times it felt as if the instruments were sighing in sorrow. The third movement passed by fluidly and the following fourth movement was exquisite. Each part was clearly different and control of the tempo was also masterful.
Listening to their performance first hand, it leads to the realization that Beethoven had created music that was independent from the influences of Haydn and Mozart even from String Quartet No. 1. The middle section of the String Quartet No. 11 ‘Serioso’ first movement began with a fast tempo. The overall performance of the four instruments seemed to play as one instrument and the tension kept the listener’s gasping for breath. In the second movement, the low tones of the cello resonated. After the third movement, which suggested a struggle, the fourth movement seemed to suggest the dance of a delicate soul.
The finale, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13, was grandiose yet mysterious. When the Quartet performed the fifth movement ‘Cavatina’, it was chilling. Reminding the listeners that cavatina means ‘short song’, the modern four string instruments played metaphysical music. In the title co-written by Richard Yongjae O’Neill ‘My and Your Beethoven’, Richard Yongjae O’Neill’s teacher, Irwin Isenberg referred to ‘cavatina’ as “Beethoven’s tears itself”. The performance brought to mind the old man in the book who was moved to tears at hearing this piece. With a magnificence beyond words, the performance exalted listeners.
It was a fine performance where the three elements of performers, program, and music hall were in harmony. It felt as if listeners were experiencing Beethoven’s life. The concentration of the performers and audience continued throughout the entire performance.
The performance of Beethoven’s Complete String Quartet continues today (2pm, 8pm), on July 1 (8pm) and July 3 (2pm, 8pm).
Taehyung Ryu, Music Columnist
June 18, 2016 | News
As James Ehnes began the Violin Concerto No. 1 K207, there were in fact three performers in play on the stage: Mr. Ehnes, the Festival Orchestra, and the Balboa acoustic itself. During the cadenza of the slow movement of the concerto we were treated to the most delicate of examples of the theatre's sound, a crystal clear acoustic with a perfect reverberation and not a hint of echo or bounce.
The first notes of the violin part, which occur in the mid-range, and every descent into that and the lower range, revealed the wood of the instrument ever more clearly. Ehnes's sound was never coarse, but rather a rich, substantial tone that seemed to allow us to feel, even smell and taste the sound; it had a scent like old, polished oak, and the texture of sugarcane in our mouths.
The calls and responses of the third movement brought eyebrow-raising smiles, like facial choreography. I'm sure I wasn't alone in that. We were dancing to the master's tune. Again, the clarity of each down-bowed attack made the chiff of hair and rosin on string sound almost percussive in the hall, but in the best, most revealing way.
The instrument was coming to us, rather than we being uncomfortably close to the instrument. Truly, this was the highlight of the Mozart portion of the evening, and a memorable performance from the artistic director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society." (San Diego Reader, 18 June 2016)
June 10, 2016 | News
Elgar’s Concerto has been gaining in popularity over the years, and Ehnes, like a matinée idol, was present for the bravura passages in every sense of the word. His tone may not be the most far-reaching, but Ehnes’ artistry was more about exploring the architectural shape of the work rather than building the themes individually. With a bow, he chipped away at the marble until Elgar’s statue stood at the end of the third movement, holding a Windflower. The orchestra, especially during the allegro, was slightly overbearing at times, but Peter Oundjian reined in the strings to allow Ehnes the room to explore the emotional core of the work.(Toronto Star, 10 June 2016)
May 1, 2016 | News
“We were treated to the complicity and intimacy of two old friends and partners, working together as if in the comfort of their living room — the very best kind of chamber music experience. Bramwell Tovey wrote Stream of Limelight as a kind of birthday present for Ehnes’ tour. It’s a fun, theatrical piece that packs a lot of moods into its short form. It has an internal rigour tied to a nostalgic, constantly transforming theme. This natural ebb and flow saves it from the episodic, choppy writing that plagues so much contemporary music. While birthday boys are normally on the receiving end of gifts, Ehnes closed the concert with a surprise goody-bag full of crowd-pleasing encores. His Flight of the Bumblebee achieved an insect-like thrum that almost out-Heifetzed Heifetz. There was a ghostly Sibelius lullaby; a piece of exotica by Fritz Kreisler (written before the term cultural appropriation was coined); and a rollicking kitchen party of a tune by Percy Grainger. The final sparkler on the cake was a spectacular work by Sarasate. Happy birthday to us.” (Ottawa Citizen, 29 April 2016)
“ The pair delivered a performance which was brilliant and engaging from start to finish…From the opening phrases of the Handel, Ehnes demonstrated his elegantly silken legato founded in gorgeous tone and perfect intonation from his 1715 “Marsick” Stradivarius. He was well matched by Armstrong…and the richness each player drew from his instrument was parallel and complementary. In Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata, the familiar song-like opening again combined phrasing, tone and balance in a rare symbiosis. Streams of Limelight is a brilliant, imaginative work which defies easy description or analysis but is a pleasure to hear, especially with two such superb performers. The audience…gave it a generous standing ovation…A group of no fewer than eight encore-type showstoppers brought the evening to a spectacular conclusion…From the dizzying, literally flying notes of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee, Sarasate’s Tarantella and James Newton Howard’s 133...At Least (the title is a metronome reference) through more lyrical strains of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Ponce and Grainger, Ehnes and Armstrong took listeners on a near psychedelic journey to the stars and back.” (ConcertoNet, 29 April 2016)
“[Handel’s D Major Sonata] was beautifully-shaped by Ehnes at the beginning, with considerable lightness and agility in the subsequent Allegro. The Larghetto was highlighted by the violinist’s very pure playing, with long beautiful lines… The finale had a definite athleticism, with well-defined detail and accents.” (Vancouver Classical Music, 11 May 2016)
“There was something distinctly Canadian in the easy rapport between Ehnes and the audience at this remarkably beautiful, eloquent recital. The unique qualities of Ehnes’s playing are immediately evident when hearing him play. But a listing of these properties — a superbly clean approach to execution, an intense lyricism, bravura when needed, and a compelling violin tone — does not really capture the essence of why he is so uniquely successful as a recitalist… without a doubt Ehnes possess [an] indefinable magnetism that enables his music making to penetrate the hearts of his listeners. Ehnes is a living national treasure, and Calgarians who attended this concert will not quickly forget it.” (Calgary Herald, 15 May 2016)
“Some artists are simply born with that magical, illusive "it" factor. Ehnes has always possessed that kind of charisma in spades, with his Midas touch seemingly turning all his concert performances and recordings to gold. But even with his ever-growing list of prestigious awards and accolades that has included multiple Grammy and Juno awards — among others — he always appears truly humbled by his own success, endearing himself as a Prairie boy forever in Manitobans’ hearts. The two launched into the [Handel]’s Affettuso that leads to its bright Allegro. Ehnes’ crisp attack fuelled by nimble bowing breathed new life into this Baroque classic, with the equally gifted Armstrong matching the soloist note for note with his own florid ornamentation. The two play as though in a conversation between good friends, with an innate rapport that is palpable. Ehnes also displayed his gorgeous lyricism during the Larghetto before returning to an exuberant Allegro finale. The duo performed [the Beethoven] like a breath of fresh spring air, with Ehnes’s fluid bow cresting over its arching themes. However, this is still Beethoven, and Armstrong infused it with requisite temperament that became a compelling juxtaposition of blue skies and rolling storm clouds.By the time of its second movement, Adagio molto espressivo, the rapt audience was firmly under their spell, as Ehnes sensitively caressed sound from his fiddle. … another thunderous standing ovation with cries of bravo by the ecstatic crowd for their hero and one of the province’s most illustrious musical sons — doubtlessly heard all the way to Wheat City itself.” (Winnipeg Free Press, 19 May 2016)
“Ehnes and Armstrong have developed an unsurpassable cohesion in their interpretation of Beethoven. Today’s “Spring Sonata” was played with energy, balance, impeccable musicianship, and breathtaking lyricism.” (Toronto Concert Reviews, 29 May 2016)