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Recital with Steven Osborne at Cottier's Theatre in Glasgow

June 12, 2015 | Reviews


"Ladies and gentlemen, I think we will have absolute unanimity among the capacity crowd that thronged into Cottier's Theatre on Wednesday night for the recital by Canadian violinist James Ehnes and pianist Steven Osborne. Their programme, consisting of the last Violin Sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms (numbers 10 and 3 respectively) was, structurally, a little masterpiece of planning.For sure, I cannot imagine them in better hands. We know both these players well in different contexts. Without understating the import of their greatness, there is a naturalistic, completely unpretentious quality to their performance and musicianship. They come on, down to earth, and do the business every single time; I've never heard either of them give a routine performance. And their playing of Brahms and Beethoven was top-drawer, musically and intellectually: completely stimulating and provocative in that, simply, it made you think again of the composers, their music and their intentions. And I'll tell you this: I cannot remember the last time I saw so many musicians from the orchestras and the community at large attend a concert, on their own night off, to hear other musicians perform. Ehnes and Osborne: musicians' musicians." (Glasgow Herald, 12 June 2015)




 


Recital with Andrew Armstrong at Wigmore Hall in London, UK

May 29, 2015 | Reviews


"Flawless violin-and-piano duo in rich programme of works from around 1915 While the Elgar Sonata was perhaps the work with the greatest personal depth, two movements either side of the interval emphasized an almost hallucinatory imagination both in the music and the performance. What an extraordinary first movement [Elgar] came up with in 1918, starting with almost excessive self-confidence, dwindling by degrees to introspection in more original double-stopping. This is where you know whether you’re witnessing the ideal interpreters, and in leaving us on the edge of tears, the duo got it absolutely right. There was more evasiveness in the featherlight dance steps breaking out in the equally personal central Romance, and a total elevation in the hard-won ebullience of the finale. In all this Ehnes never produced a less than pitch-perfect note, and every phrase lives with him, without showmanship or forced rhetoric. Armstrong (pictured right) has a musical personality to match the heavyweight Russians, producing an enormous sound when necessary, but always rounded, and always fine-tuned to the needs of his duo partner in flawless synchronicity. He needed the weight for the finale of Respighi’s B minor Sonata, a stunner after two not especially original movements: a Passacaglia which is to the violin-and-piano repertoire what the same form is to the conclusion of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and clearly modelled on its inspiration. The violin, which Ehnes keeps tonally sweet and bright even when fullest of tone, rides the imposing double octaves and solemn chords of an amazing piano part, equally amazingly played. The encores were a perfect pair: from what the violinist described as a vast choice of more music composed circa 1915, we heard a quirky, very brief Mazurka by anniversary composer Sibelius and a typical stroke of miniature genius from Ravel actually composed in 1922, the Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré, in which Ehnes and Armstrong rounded off a singular simplicity with a final supernatural sleight of hand, flawless to the last." (ArtsDesk, 27 May 2015)

"In this interesting programme at the Wigmore Hall, in which pianist Andrew Armstrong partnered Ehnes in works by Debussy, Respighi, Szymanowski and Elgar, the violinist showed that his immaculate technique and cool composure could be made to serve the diversity of idiom and wide expressive range of these four pieces...Debussy’s Sonata (1916-17) constantly fluctuates between contrasting sound worlds, and in the opening bars Ehnes and Armstrong slipped easily from the silky blues-like syncopations of the beginning, to the bright dashing quavers which follow – in which Armstrong’s sharp attack added vibrant tension – blossoming with radiant expansiveness at the climax of the passage. The complex impressionistic textures were delivered with remarkable clarity, every inner motif etched precisely and delicately...Armstrong did much to convey [the Respighi Sonata's] vast reach and weight, and its underlying brooding meditativeness, while always warm of tone and sensitive to Ehnes’ eloquence. The sonata makes great demands on both performers, calling for both considerable virtuosity and sustained musical intensity. Repeatedly rising to stratospheric heights in the opening Moderato, Ehnes played with unfailingly sweet tone, rounded and focused in even the quietest dolce melodies, radiant in more impassioned moments. At the start of ‘The Fountain of Arethusa’, Armstrong’s shimmering piano textures were an iridescent canvas for the violin’s high euphoric song – a truly exquisite melody...Needless to say, Ehnes was more than equal to the technical challenges of the work: the natural and artificial harmonics, double-stops, two-note trills, quarter-tones, and simultaneous bowing and pizzicato were all flawless...However, in Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E Minor, composed in 1918, Ehnes and Armstrong displayed enormous musical and expressive depth, playing with unwavering intensity and a wide tonal range." (Seen and Heard, 29 May 2015)




 


Recital with Andrew Armstrong to celebrate the 120th Anniversary of the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg

May 4, 2015 | Reviews


His warmth, sincerity, gentle humour and humility were on full display during the weekend recital... Ehnes attacked [Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor's] opening movement with gusto, navigating its tempestuous waters that also provided a first taste of his wide-ranging tonal colour palette coaxed out of his stunning 1715 "Marsick" Stradivarius. He infused his second movement with world-weary resignation in a deeply felt performance, including barely-there runs, hushed tones and a responsive rubato always tastefully matched by Armstrong’s sensitive playing. The finale showed greater force, displaying Ehnes’s bravura, which grew in emotional intensity and depth until its fiery close. Special mention must be made of the Connecticut-born Armstrong...the powerhouse pianist proved his fearless match note for note. The two musicians’ rapport was immediately palpable, as a compelling partnership that is both organic and responsive to each other." (Winnipeg Free Press, 4 May 2015)




 


Nielsen's Violin Concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård

Apr. 27, 2015 | Reviews


“Is there any better violinist in the world at the moment than James Ehnes? It didn’t need Saturday’s performance of the Nielsen Violin Concerto with the RSNO, or his immaculate solo Bach encore, to prompt that thought. He has been in Scotland aplenty, and each time he returns he blows us away with his unflinching, impeccable technique and the intellectual probity of his arresting musicianship. And this wasn’t an easy concerto to bring off, given its relative unfamiliarity and its unorthodox structuring – two significant movements that are themselves self- contained entities, combined with Nielsen’s signature questioning and elusive lyrical style. But when delivered so convincingly as this – a virtuoso performance in which every single note bore a ringing precision and clarity of purpose, and in which the long game was always firmly in sight – the exhilaration of the final outcome, the winding emotional journey towards it, was simply sensational.” (Scotsman, 27 April 2015)
“Now that…was an RSNO concert for the memory banks. Canadian violinist James Ehnes [is] a near-perfect, feet-on-the-ground musician who has not sullied a single phrase he has played in Scotland with a blemish of indulgence. James Ehnes's multi-faceted performance of the Nielsen concerto caught the essence of the piece, in its wit, its flashing drama, its high-speed and abrupt changes of temperament, its tenderness and lyricism, and its almost bloody-minded individuality which insists on the mercurial music following its own star and no established template. A splendid concert.” (Sunday Herald, 26 April 2015)
“I was pretty much bowled over by this superb performance of his Violin Concerto. …it is largesse indeed to have someone of the level of James Ehnes to play the solo line. He is surely one of the very finest violinists in the world today, playing at the top of his game, and his playing tonight showed not only that he knew the notes but that he had worked hard to understand the spirit of the piece and what lay behind the dots on the page. The virtuosity was there, of course, with a dazzling opening flourish and stunning cadenzas, with double-stopping that often had me wondering how on earth he was doing it. Even better, though, was the keynote of beauty that ran through his whole vision of the score, from the song-like main melody of the opening movement, through to the focused lightness of the Allegro cavalleresco. Best of all, though, was the melancholy beauty of the melody of the slow movement, which seemed to flow in a seamless, rhapsodic stream out of Ehnes’ violin. The perky finale was brilliantly controlled, and the final strait, after the cadenza, felt like the final act of a great story, brilliantly told. I never thought I’d say that of a Nielsen concert, but I consider myself lucky to have heard this one.” (Seen and Heard International, 25 April 2015)




 


Aaron Jay Kernis’s “Two Movements (with Bells) for Violin and Piano” at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Apr. 6, 2015 | News


"The most effective work was Aaron Jay Kernis’s Two Movements (with Bells) for Violin and Piano, from 2007. The piece was written for Ehnes, and together with Armstrong he gave it a moving, virtuosic reading. The bells of the title are not literal, but the piano often hints at them, calling them in from a distance to accompany the violin. Kernis’s writing is strikingly violinistic. His long, arching lines show a great level of comfort with the instrument’s lyrical voice, and his more fiery passages, while technically demanding, never seem to be awkward for the player. The result is breathtakingly expressive, working with the violin’s natural strengths rather than against them. Kernis’s earnest, straightforward tonality feels familiar, but not saccharine. The violin searches, wandering in the direction of a melody, calling to mind shades of Prokofiev in the opening strain of the second movement, 'A song for my Father.'” (New York Classical Review, 3 April 2015)
“Mr. Ehnes and Mr. Armstrong joined forces for Mr. Kernis’s work, which opens with a burst of speed and bright sound. The second movement, “A Song for My Father,” features a poignant violin melody, which Mr. Ehnes played with great tenderness. There are brief echoes of jazzy dance music before the sound grows distant and disembodied, with Mr. Ehnes producing harmonics that sounded at times like a theremin.” (New York Times, 3 April 2015)