First Reviews are in for James's Britten and Shostakovich Recording!

Jun. 18, 2013 | Reviews

“Virtuosity is not exploited in any facile, ingratiating way but rather to intensify the substance of the music. Ehnes has full measure of it and of its eloquent application… In both [concertos], the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra adds compelling force and colour, Ehnes’s range and inflections of tone and his mature spectrum of interpretation gauged with exceptional insight. The partnership between Ehnes, Karabits and the BSO comes across as a true meeting of minds, and these outstanding performances cannot be recommended highly enough.” 5 Stars (Daily Telegraph, 15 June 2013)

“James Ehnes’s sinewy tonal lustre, dazzling technique and Perlman-like ability to soar whenever a decent melody comes along, works wonders in the Britten…Ehnes proves beyond a doubt that the Violin Concerto deserves an honoured place alongside those by Elgar and Walton.” (Sinfini, 6 June 2013)

“These inspired performances are subtle and persuasive as well as fiery. James Ehnes plays with a powerful lyricism which makes the complexities melt away.” (The Observer, 9 June 2013)

“I never cease to listen in awe at the supernatural control violinist James Ehnes has over his bow. His latest album, featuring the Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich concertos with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra may not be easy listening, but it commands instant and total respect. This Onyx release with conductor Kirill Karabits puts Ehnes in the position of having to be at once strong and delicate, lyrical as well as dispassionate, cool but not devoid of humanity. And somehow all of these emotional attributes need to both inform and be conjured by finely tuned physical movements. Ehnes is brilliant on all counts.” (Musical Toronto, 21 May 2013)


Recital with Baritone Russell Braun and pianist Carolyn Maule at Koerner Hall in Toronto

May 4, 2013 | Reviews

“Ehnes…stunned the audience – there’s no other word for it – with the yin and yang of solo violin playing: the profound Bach Chaconne from his Second Partita, and some of Paganini’s glittering Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 24. The Bach Chaconne is one of those pieces that makes me sad for all my friends who aren’t into classical music, who don’t get to experience this form of art. A physical as well as emotional challenge for its performer, it was given an assured, balanced, deep performance by Ehnes, perfectly in tune with the music, as though his whole body was the instrument from which this sound was forthcoming. …The involuntary “Wow!” that escaped the mouth of one of the members of the audience in the middle of Ehnes’s Caprices was better than a thousand words I could write as a review of his amazing performance. James Ehnes and Russell Braun left us in little doubt on Thursday afternoon about the source of their fame. They are both musicians of the first rank.” (Globe and Mail, 3 May 2013)

“what we witnessed was the work of two greats. Ehnes display[ed] technique and control over his instrument that, quite frankly, didn’t seem entirely human. But he also made beautiful music. The Chaconne was a breathtaking show in how much Ehnes could do with a minimum of bowing, conjuring double and triple stops (hitting two or three strings at a time) out of thin air, and balancing two, three and even four lines of music on the tip of his golden-sounding instrument.” (Musical Toronto, 2 May 2013)

“As a soloist the violinist gave us Bach’s Chaconne, which sounded not an iota less than the masterpiece it is. In the second half Ehnes played three Paganini Caprices. The dazzling runs of No. 16 in G Minor elicited an audible “Wow!” from an awestruck patron in the parterre. Sympathetic chuckles ensued. Again the quiet touches impressed as much as the big, blazing fortes. Has the lilt of No. 9 ever been more gracefully captured? The famous variations of No. 24 traversed a seemingly infinite array of light and shade. It is customary to praise a pianist for invoking an orchestra. For a solo violinist to do this is rather less common. This was Ehnes at the top of his game.” (National Post, 3 May 2013)


Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade" with the Oregon Symphony and Carlos Kalmar

Apr. 21, 2013 | Reviews

"The other major piece on the program was Leonard Bernstein's 'Serenade,' the quasi-concerto for violin inspired by Plato's 'Symposium.' It, too, was a triumph, thanks especially to the soloist, the captivating violinist James Ehnes. Appropriately for the piece's roots in philosophic dialogue, his engagement with the orchestra was intense and thoughtful...He surmounted the piece's abundant technical and musical challenges with the kind of virtuosity that calls no attention to itself. With a big, lustrous tone, rock-solid intonation and impeccable phrasing, his outstanding playing was as direct as speech, appealing at once to the mind and to the spirit." (Oregonian, 21 April 2013)


Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and Arild Remmereit

Apr. 12, 2013 | Reviews

"Ehnes, a violinist with winged fingers and a consummate understanding of the piece, was the North star of the Sibelius concerto. From its opening allegro, through its wickedly difficult finale, he not only plays with ease but understands the destination of every virtuosic run in the work. He plays so facilely and powerfully some people may have missed the jawdropper passage in which two fingers play a trill while two more must tackle a running melody above it, leaving only the thumb to balance the instrument’s neck. Fortunately, there are many more feats for them to catch: This work has two miniature cadenzas in its first movement as well as the full one and it is loaded with double stops and speed-of-light runs." (Naples Daily News, 12 April 2013)


Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Calgary Philharmonic and Roberto Minczuk

Apr. 7, 2013 | Reviews

"The range of his expressive gifts as a performer was abundantly evident in the superlative performance he gave Friday evening in the First Violin Concerto of Shostakovich, a work originally written for the legendary David Oistrakh. While comparisons can be invidious, there are some distinct similarities between Ehnes's way of playing and that of Oistrakh. Like Oistrakh, Ehnes has a rare ease of execution and perfection in tuning; he also has a performing persona that draws the listener into the centre of the music. Also like Oistrakh, Ehnes has a remarkable way of delivering lyrical melody that makes the tunes stay in one's head.

Few concerto works for the violin show off these qualities better than the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto. This is a work with a striking opening movement: A nocturne of languid, inner beauty, expressed in a long-spanning lines that continue, almost endlessly, to evolve. The middle section with the mute was especially haunting in its beauty and sweetness. Ehnes projected the sinuous lines with firmness, but also with subtlety and nuance, in a performance of rare suppleness and grace.

While much of the concerto explores the darker, inward emotions often associated with Shostakovich's music, the finale, a Burlesque, is filled with virtuosity and rhythmic excitement. This more extroverted element of the music was delivered with driving energy by Ehnes. This is superb piece of modern music, and one that demands much from the listener, as well as the performer. It was a treat to hear this challenging music, and to hear it played with such energy and fervour. For his side, conductor Roberto Minczuk led the orchestra in a sympathetic, well-judged account of the complex orchestral accompaniment, soloist and orchestra working admirably together." (Calgary Herald, 6 April 2013)


Berg's Violin Concerto with the St. Louis Symphony and David Robertson

Mar. 12, 2013 | Reviews

"Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, his final work, is a rich and curious combination of the spiky and egregiously difficult with moments of real beauty and deeply felt emotions. ...It was particularly compelling in the hands of Canadian violinist James Ehnes, who inhabited the character of young Manon Gropius as Berg composed it, and who gave a flawless performance in every respect. It's not a particularly showy piece, but it's one that demands both technical chops and the ability to dig deeply into the music. Ehnes has both." (St. Louis Dispatch, 9 March 2013)

"'Beautiful' isn’t a word you often hear applied to the 12-tone music of the Second Viennese School, but I can’t think of a better one to describe the performance of Alban Berg’s 1935 “Violin Concerto” by soloist James Ehnes and the symphony under David Robertson. [James Ehnes] is...both an impressive technician and a sensitive musician who brought out all the drama and pathos in Berg’s music. He played the difficult Allegro that opens the second movement, for example, with the ease of a true virtuoso but did not lack for tenderness in that transcendent Bachian finale. Both he and Mr. Robertson turned in a performance that would likely have drawn a prolonged standing ovation had the music been (say) Tchaikovsky rather than Berg. At least on Friday morning that didn’t happen, which seems rather unfair. Greatness in the execution of difficult material, it seems to me, ought to get more recognition rather than less." (KDHX, 9 March 2013)


High praise for volume 2 of James's survey of Béla Bartók's works for violin and piano

Jan. 29, 2013 | Reviews

“Ehnes gives a stunning account of the Solo Sonata…clarity of articulation, beauty of sound, the ease with which he surmounts the technical challenges, and deep understanding of the works structure and character; all these combine to make a performance that’s exciting and enthralling. The 1903 Sonata…played as here, with intense commitment and real virtuosity, [is] a most enjoyable piece. The middle movement is particularly engaging – a sombre, funereal theme and variations that suggest different styles of gypsy music, with cimbalom-like flourishes. Andrew Armstrong catches the spirit of these to perfection. The three suites of folk pieces are performed in authentic style and with irresistible panache. If anyone doubts Ehnes’s status as a wizard of the violin, they should listen to the way he plays the harmonics on tr 19.” (Gramophone, January 2013)

“So far in his amazing career, Brandon, Man., native James Ehnes has turned into gold every note touched by his violin bow. His second album devoted to the music of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945) is northing short of spectacular…Ehnes has his feet firmly planted on the earthiness of the folk elements as he tosses off this virtuosic music with panache. …This album is a wonder from beginning to end.” (Toronto Star, 29 January 2013)

“James Ehnes…showcases his command of the composer’s varied styles and rhythmic flair. The soft, mournful "Melodia" highlights the Sonata, BB 124 for solo violin. Ehnes maintains vulnerability without ever sounding tenuous and his harmonics are chilling. Ehnes’ playing is equally neat and stylish in a series of Romanian Folk Dances, from a ceremonious stick dance to a rousing polka. He brings a seductive sway and silken tone to the first of a group of Hungarian songs that are variously plaintive, hearty and sprightly.” (Star-Ledger, 18 January 2013)

“James Ehnes's outstanding Bartók series for Chandos continues with the early romantic Sonata BB 28 (1903), Hungarian Folk Songs and Romanian Folk Dances. Big toned yet poetic, Ehnes is a persuasive interpreter.” (The Observer, 20 January 2013)

”It was Schoenberg who quipped about waiting for violinists’ fourth fingers having to become longer to make his 1936 Violin Concerto sound playable. There was a similar gap between the music and its delivery in Bartók’s late Solo Violin Sonata of 1944. The sonata’s time has surely come, as the lucidity and technical grasp of James Ehnes’s new account make perfectly clear.“ (Irish Times, 18 January 2013)


Britten & Shostakovich Recording in the Works!

Dec. 2, 2012 | Reviews

James has teamed up with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kirill Karabits for a recording Britten’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1, scheduled to be released by Onyx Classics in May 2013. In preparation for the recording, concerts performances were given of each concerto:

Britten’s Violin Concerto in Bristol:

“Ehnes’s sound had the beauty of burnished steel as he roamed the stratosphere, the poise of his playing complementing the poise of this music which might have been written to show off his talents, for his sound is absolutely Protean. Required in the Scherzo to swoop and slide like a Transylvanian village fiddler, he went on to deliver a brilliant cadenza, musingly at first and then catching fire, before ushering in the majestically sweeping threnody of the Passacaglia. Here he dazzled, going through a series of duets with different instruments using a different timbre each time, making quick-fire contrasts between legato and pizzicato, at one point effortlessly bowing a leaping melody on one string while plucking another, and finally making his instrument speak with two voices, one low and richly sonorous and the other high and pure, and in the latter mode drifting off into space.” (Independent, 30 November 2012)

“The collaboration between Ehnes and Karabits brought out the underlying psychological unease of Britten the pacifist, contemplating his recent exile from Britain and, significantly, affording moments of anguish that point directly to Peter Grimes. Few interpretations in the coming centenary celebrations will be as eloquent.” (Guardian, 30 November 2012)

“The arrival of violinist James Ehnes lofted the evening to a higher plane…thanks to the beauteously radiant tone and razor-sharp tuning Ehnes brought to it.” (Daily Telegraph, 30 November 2012)

Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in Poole:

“The heart of the concert was an extraordinary performance of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No 1 with the brilliant James Ehnes as soloist. Apparently encountering no technical problems in this hazardously difficult work, Ehnes transmitted its mood of bitter melancholy and dry-eyed grief with alert, responsive support from the orchestra.” (The Observer, 2 December 2012)

“High amongst the gloomiest of the genre, Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No1 is also, arguably, the most profoundly moving. And Canadian violinist James Ehnes put in a suitably stern-faced performance that touched the very soul of this compelling work. With exemplary support from Kirill Karabits and the BSO, Ehnes entered with lower strings on a morose melody-a nocturne of Russian sensibility-that seemed interminable. The Scherzo too, was darkly dour, employing not-the-happiest of Jewish folk idioms and blisteringly energised with the composer’s monogrammatic motto; DSCH. The Passacaglia offered just a little hope, the huge cadenza receiving a prayerful countenance in Ehnes’ hands, and becoming increasingly agitated until running into the finale’s virtuosic, empty rejoicing. A powerful sign of those times and an indelible, intellectually gripping performance.” (Daily Echo, 29 November 2012)


At Lincoln Center for Brahms's Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev

Oct. 24, 2012 | Reviews

“Mr. Ehnes teamed with Mr. Gergiev for a spacious and calmly intense account of the Violin Concerto. Mr. Ehnes has technical brilliance to spare, but there was not a trace of flashiness in his majestic, poetic and transparent playing.” (New York Times, 24 October 2012)

"The conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow once remarked that Brahms’s Violin Concerto was written not for but against the violin. Fortunately nobody told that to James Ehnes, who played the solo part with remarkable technical ease. His intonation was consistently superb, and the bright tone he coaxed from his ‘Marsick’ Stradivarius was distinctive...His realization was most appealing in the more dramatic moments, such as the triple-stopped passages in the first movement. Ehnes modified his tone to become slightly sweeter in the Adagio without any loss of intensity." (Classical Source, 25 October 2012)


Bartok's Violin Concerto No.2 with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain

Oct. 16, 2012 | Reviews

“James Ehnes took the stage and left many in the audience wondering why they hadn’t heard Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 sooner…the root of the reading’s power lay in Ehnes’ hands, and keen musical mind. Continuing to offer evidence that…he deserves to be considered as complete a violinist as is before us today. The response of the packed Overture Hall crowd elicited not one, but two, encores: first the ubiquitous Caprice No. 24 of Paganini, followed after further approbation, the less often heard No. 16.” (Madison Magazine, 16 October 2012)

“a rendition of Béla Bartók's Second Violin Concerto that was so blazingly fast and technically spectacular, it would be only mildly surprising to see his coat sleeves catch fire. The concerto was intellectually fascinating; in both the second and third movements, one could hear variations within variations, turning in on themselves and transforming. The second movement especially seemed to move in a dozen different ways, punctuated by impossibly light high notes from Ehnes. Moments in the athletic third movement (Allegro molto) sounded wild, with insistent percussion and fiendishly fast work once again from the soloist. (77 Square, 13 October 2012)


James kicks off the Rochester Philharmonic's season performing Korngold's Violin Concerto with Arild Remmereit

Oct. 5, 2012 | Reviews

“James Ehnes gave a sensational performance of Korngold’s Violin Concerto. From the schmaltzy opening to the rambunctious finale, Ehnes dispatched his solos with ardor and steely control. He whizzed through tricky chromatic runs with spot-on intonation and added juicy slides to Korngold’s bittersweet tunes. In the Romanze, he produced an ultra-sweet tone and a real sense of intimacy — as if singing a Richard Strauss aria to himself. He reveled in the Finale’s high-spirited monkeyshines, bringing this showpiece to a happy Hollywood ending and a long ovation in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.” (Democrat and Chronicle, 5 October 2012)

“And then there was the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), featuring guest violinist James Ehnes. Ehnes, performing on the "Marsick" Stradivarius of 1715, played a clean, light, and, at times, delicate line.” (City Newspaper, 5 October 2012)


A "stellar" opening-season concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Brahms's Violin Concerto

Sept. 24, 2012 | Reviews

"Ehnes...worked his stunning technical magic on the Brahms piece. It’s hard to imagine any other violinist being able to toss off the long, arcing musical lines and myriad virtuosic flourishes Brahms laid out in 1878 for his friend, the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim, with as much aplomb. Ehnes probably does himself a disservice by remaining ever calm, cool and composed, because the sound that comes out of his priceless 1715 Stradivarius is as close to flawless as one gets in the ever-imperfect world of live performance. He also manages to tease fine nuance and subtle graduations of dynamics and tone along the way. The Roy Thomson Hall audience loudly leapt to its feat in gratitude, to which Ehnes responded with the Gigue from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin. This was also so smooth, so assured, that Ehnes had again made the execution look too easy." (Musical Toronto, 20 September 2012)

"The international star showed off his breathtaking technique in a riveting performance of one of the warhorse Violin Concerto written by Johannes Brahms in 1878. It is a piece filled with beautiful melodies, stunning virtuoso passages and a wonderful sense of movement and structure that was clearly rendered by Ehnes’s accompanists, led by music director Peter Oundjian. The capacity house was so loudly and happily impressed with Ehnes’s performance, that he obliged with a smart, sleek rendition of the Gigue from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin. Ehnes makes everything look so easy, which makes his uncommonly deft touch particularly remarkable." (Toronto Star, 21 September 2012)


Brahms's Violin Concerto with the orchestre symphonique de Québec

Sept. 12, 2012 | Reviews

"The first half of the concert was marked by the return of James Ehnes, a favourite virtuoso of Quebec audiences. The violinist performed the sublime Brahms’s Concerto with elegance and vigour. He is a hero without fear and without reproach who is never disarmed by the music. There were no chinks in his armour! Having said that, the result was near perfection. You felt the amazing freedom in his playing after the return of the cadenza in the first movement. Fabien Gabel accompanied him attentively and carefully. The two men seemed to communicate better and better with each movement. Their partnership extended to a Méditation on an outside stage, Ehnes on the violin, Gabel on the piano. A magnificent performance under a perfect sky." (Le Soleil, 12 September 2012)


A Great time at the Chicago Beethoven Festival: Violin Concerto and Recital with Andrew Armstrong

Sept. 11, 2012 | Reviews

Beethoven Violin Concerto: "...soloist James Ehnes, one of the finest violinists on the planet. There was a time when many violinists performed the imposing opening movement at a snail’s pace in the misguided hope that ponderous equals profound. The Canadian native chose a smart tempo, avoiding many of the fussy mannerisms that have accumulated in this mammoth concerto over the centuries. The sweet lyricism of his second movement soared into every corner of the hall, and expressions of deep appreciation could be seen on patrons and musicians alike. I don’t recall ever hearing a more probing, intelligent, and moving account of this warhorse." (Chicago Classical Review, 9 September 2012)

Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonatas with Andrew Armstrong: ". I've admired this greatly gifted violinist ever since his Chicago Symphony debut in 2006, and the orchestra should invite him back, posthaste. The duo's searching and mettlesome readings illuminated Beethoven's musical thought processes, setting the bar very high indeed for the remaining festival events." (Chicago Tribune, 11 September 2012)