The Ehnes Quartet all-Beethoven program for Friends of Chamber Music

November 17, 2015 | Reviews

"From the moment violinist James Ehnes and his colleagues took the stage at Coral Gables Congregational Church, the quartet offered finely chiseled ensemble playing and probing interpretive visions of the many sided master from Bonn. The String Quartet No. 5 in A Major is youthful Beethoven, rich in melody and spirited invention. The players’ vigorous attack at the onset of the initial Allegro never abated throughout the movement. A lovely Allegretto was unhurried and aristocratic with the sudden abrupt chords that interrupt the main theme, a Haydnesque joke, given emphatic weight. Ehnes, a superb soloist in his own right, gave a formidable display of virtuosity in the Andante cantabile but his soaring tone blended seamlessly with second violin Amy Schwartz Moretti...

The opening chords of the Quartet No. 11 in F Major announce a different Beethoven. Despite the relentless tempo throughout the stormy and dramatic first movement, the players’ tone remained evenly balanced and devoid of roughness. Richard O’Neill’s deep viola sonority shone impressively in the second movement, firm and strongly present while always finely blended...

The Quartet No. 15, Op. 132 is Beethoven’s penultimate complete chamber work. Robert DeMaine’s warm, suave cello sound launched the dark, mysterious introduction. Changes of meter were smoothly achieved and the four musicians’ sonority was almost orchestral in the ensuing Allegro, the playing fired up and full of vitality. The Molto Adagio third movement is the score’s heart. This is Beethoven at the pinnacle of his creative powers, despite deafness and illness, searching for higher means of expression. The Ehnes foursome brought out the music’s ethereal beauty, allowing the long phrases to unfold quietly and slowly without exaggerated emphasis, a pitfall in many less musically astute renditions. Sweeping contrasts between a robust march and energtic Allegro Appassionato completed a performance of rare distinction that combined awesome technique with a strong sense of the score’s elegiac darkness. In response to a standing, shouting ovation, the quartet lightened up with a bright reading of the final movement of Beethoven’s early Quartet No. 4 that nicely combined vigor with a touch of charm and whimsy." (South Florida Classical Review, 17 November 2015)


Ehnes Quartet at the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris

November 16, 2015 | Reviews

"It is evident that they know each other very well - one can hear the shared intensity of emotion...their “Death and the Maiden” was infinitely dramatic; throughout the four movements, we heard different rhythms, at times dark, at times quiet, at times compelling. Their playing released a power that went far beyond the notes, a sort of battle between life and death symbolised by the music…the final ‘presto’, already fast at the beginning, went even faster in the ‘coda’ but the celebrated momentum did not stop, the musicians launched a race against death and it was life that triumphed with the final chords...the final movement of Dvorak’s ‘American Quartet’, performed as the encore, overflowed with life, with one rhythm – blithely joyful and cheerfully seductive." (Resmusica, 16 November 2015)


Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the San Diego Symphony and Edo de Waart

October 28, 2015 | Reviews

"the Beethoven Violin Concerto, with soloist James Ehnes, was elegant...Ehnes’ refined, nuanced playing was a good fit with de Waart’s rarefied approach. At time Ehnes’s playing almost sounded wistful." (San Diego Union Tribune, 24 October 2015)

"Ehnes imbued the Beethoven Violin Concerto with a level of refinement and consistently lustrous tone that was almost too good to be true. Perhaps because his poise and deft treatment of every flourish was so breathtaking, de Waart subtly emphasized the composer’s harmonic provocations in the orchestra to balance the equation. Ehnes’ fleet, jocund account of the Rondo finale served as his encore." (San Diego Story, 24 October 2015)

"Violinist James Ehnes played the Beethoven Violin Concerto and it was as creamy as could be... I could have listened to the cadenza all day long. Ehnes, as a performer, was quiet in his body and facial expression. There were none of the pained grimaces of constipation which some, not all--but some, solo violinists employ. Ehnes’s playing was mesmerizing in and of itself. We didn’t need to see him “feeling it.” The tone and quality of his playing took care of it all." (San Diego Reader, 26 October 2015)


Ehnes Quartet in London's Wigmore Hall

October 27, 2015 | Reviews

"Throughout their performance of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, the quartet gave its listeners jagged rhythms, the throbbing competitiveness of its counterpoint harmonies, timid and abashed light ditties, and sometimes even a playful, staccato-fuelled rhythm. The mania that permeates the music was apparent but it didn’t spill into the technical finesse of its performance. If one considered that the work had been composed a little after Schubert had discovered he was dying, one could hear the struggle between morbidity and self-denial; an unrelenting search to find a truth which nobody wants to confront. Lastly the ensemble treated us to a contrasting performance of the final movement of Dvo?ák’s American Quartet as an encore. It was sprightly and bouncy, full of almost frenetic joy. It was everything we wouldn’t have expected from the players we had heard and thus the final confirmation that, whatever gloss these instrumentalists employ to make their rhythm and their intonation sparkle – other string quartets should want at least an ounce of it." (MusicOMH, 26 October 2015)


Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain

October 17, 2015 | Reviews

"Solo violinist James Ehnes gave a stellar performance. His sense of phrasing, in particular, was especially nice — as natural as breathing." (The Cap Times, 17 October 2015)

"Violinist James Ehnes returned to the Madison Symphony Orchestra stage Friday night, a 300-year-old Stradivarius in hand, and watched his audience fall in love. His performance of Max Bruch's “Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra” was flawless and, honest to God, really did seem to transport one to that rocky land. We hear a lot of fine violin solos in Madison, but Ehnes does seem to have magic in his bow." (Channel 3000, 17 October 2015)

"Returning after a visit three years ago, the Canadian violinist James Ehnes avoids the “warhorse” choice of Bruch's popular Concerto No. 1 for the more rarely heard Scottish Fantasy by the composer... The solo part, written for the great virtuoso Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, is flamboyant and demanding, but Ehnes brings it off with stylish flair, in a truly memorable performance." (Isthmus, 17 October 2015)