March 13, 2017
Beethoven's sonatas for piano and violin - as he, the pianist, called them - have been recorded by most of the famous players of recent history, yet there i always room for performances as vital and compelling as these of the A major, Op. 30, No. 1, and the greatest of the 10, the "Kreutzer", also in A (Op. 47). In a short space of time, the Canadian Ehnes has become one of the most popular soloists on the UK concert circuit, and his partnership with Armstrong is already well-established on disc in works by Franck, Strauss, Elgar, Debussy and Respighi. Although the Kreutzer was inspired by two great virtuosos, George Bridgetower and the eventual dedicatee, Rodolphe Kreutzer, it is as much of a challenge for the pianist as for the fiddler. Armstrong's arabesques in its opening movement are delivered with bravura panache, yet it's the subtle interplay between the two players, ceding to each other as they 'converse' melodically in the central variation movement, that impresses here. The dotted marcato rhythms of the presto finale are sizzlingly dispatched. Indeed, the only relative disappointment is that the earlier work seems anticlimactic after such a tour de force. Best to play them in reverse order.
March 17, 2017
...with James Ehnes as the soloist, the clichés often signaled by “virtuosity” — mere dazzle, effects without causes — have no bearing. It’s clear that Kernis tailored the piece to display this unmatchable violinist’s musical intelligence, taste, and beautiful sound production above all incredible technical feats he calls for (of which this piece is essentially a violinist’s compendium). Whether Ehnes was attacking a fearsome passage of double-stop chords with his signature elegance or deftly sprinkling a torrent of precisely placed pizzicati, it was like watching a veteran climber scaling a particularly brutal mountain face sans ropes. But for all the thrills and escapades, the overall impression he left of the concerto — which Kernis has dedicated to Ehnes — was of a rich, many-colored, joyful composition that has something compelling to say, and that resonates afterward.
March 4, 2017
“The pinnacle of the evening came before the interval … You couldn’t wish for a better soloist for this delicate treasure of a piece. [Ehnes’] tone is soft yet silvery, sparkling and lively. He excels in this masterpiece by letting love as an idea, a vision, a poetic ideal, be illuminated without being overly sentimental – and with masterful confidence, he makes the substantial technical challenges of this work seem completely incidental. The precision of his playing; its clarity, its delicacy, its introspectiveness, its soul, its intimacy, its intelligence – all of this [is carried across] to the Gewandhausorchester.” (Leipziger Volkszeitung, March 2017)
November 28, 2016 | News
"Well, the great Ludwig had reckoned without James Ehnes, a violinist in a class of his own. The Canadian musician’s polite, unassuming manner belies his brilliant artistry. His piercing clarity and sweet lyricism made this a Beethoven Violin Concerto to remember." (The Times, November 2016)