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)
May 9, 2016 | News
“The deluxe treatment that came with the likes of James Ehnes, who played the Williams Violin Concerto at Thursday at the Kimmel Center with the insights and commitment he brings to better-known repertoire.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 May 2016)
“Canada’s remarkable James Ehnes…I hesitate to call him a virtuoso, since that term suggests a flashy, in-your-face bravado utterly foreign to his style, but there is no doubt of his technical mastery. Yet, it is not his flawless technique that elevated this performance, but rather the seamless flow, dynamic richness, and interpretative insight that Ehnes brought to individual passages and to his vision of the work as a whole. Thanks to Ehnes’s insight, the cadenza at the end of the first movement holds its heartbreaking, uplifting own with some of the greatest in the violin repertoire. Few contemporary cadenzas move from such a depth of feeling, and I think we can thank Ehnes, even more than Williams, for a few moments when emotion and intelligence coalesced into art.” (Broadstreet Review, 9 May 2016)
“James Ehnes has not been around as long as Yo-Yo Ma, but he is a master of comparable caliber, and he mustered for the concerto an ideal blend of delicacy and fire. Greeted with a standing ovation of more than ordinary enthusiasm, he responded with an encore—the Largo from Bach’s third solo sonata—in his performance of which delicacy reigned supreme.” (Seen and Heard, 13 May 2016)
April 5, 2016 | News
"[A] superb recital by James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong… Armstrong and Ehnes are perfectly matched here, instinctively touching not only the soul but also the heart of Elgar's creative world with a subtlety and sensitivity that, as with Ehnes's Concerto recording, cause shivers to run up and down the spine." FIVE STARS (Daily Telegraph, 2 April 2016)
"This thoughtful album, an anatomy of Europe torn apart, is deftly played by James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong, calibrating instrumental equality in Debussy and violin dominance in Sibelius. I haven’t heard the Elgar played so eloquently in decades, or the Respighi so lyrically. It’s a flawless record, a five-star. You won’t see many of those." FIVE STARS (Musical Toronto, 22 March 2016)
"...a satisfying recital disc that showcases Ehnes’s warm tone and purposeful phrasing. These are serious pieces, and...Ehnes and Armstrong make their heavyweight interpretations work." (Guardian, 17 March 2016)
"These three three-movement, highly substantial sonatas were written around the same timeit is an imaginative stroke to bring them together...sumptuously played." (Sunday Times, 27 March 2016)
March 12, 2016 | News
“Canadian violinist James Ehnes was the brilliant soloist in Sibelius' Violin Concerto. Ehnes brought not only striking virtuosity but also genuine expressive intensity.” (TribLive, 11 March 2016)
"[Ehnes's] playing had the qualities of a potter and a painter. He molded phrases as if from clay while at the same time painting them with splashes of colors: high notes that flickered like light, vibrato as human as an operatic voice, lullaby-like lines in the middle movement. And he matched that subtlety with a self-assured playing, leaving the listener feeling like the challenging music was in safe hands." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12 March 2016)
February 18, 2016 | Reviews
"Canadian violinist James Ehnes and his 1715 Marsick Stradivarius has become a familiar sight on Sydney Opera House’s concert hall stage. One of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s favourite soloists during his tenure as chief conductor of Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the 40-year-old virtuoso caused a sensation when he came here to play the Elgar concerto in 2008.By the time he returned in 2010 for the Tchaikovsky he had a solid Sydney fanbase, and most recently his reading of the Prokofiev and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons attracted more rave reviews. His latest visit, playing the Beethoven’s concerto for Ashkenazy’s full symphonic cycle, eloquently illustrates what all the fuss is about. It’s partly in his attention to every detail. Even the extended trills of the first movement are given the same concentration as the beautifully executed runs. The lines are elegant and smooth. He never pushes it but lets the music build through its own momentum so by the time he gets to Kreisler’s celebrated cadenzas with their double stopping wizardry we are left breathless. But with Beethoven the music as always is paramount and here the young Canadian is in tune, literally and figuratively, with his orchestral companions. A keen chamber musician...his approach to the work is of an intelligent conversation with the orchestra rather than the old-fashioned idea of the showy soloist. When he does unbutton, Ehnes shows impeccable technique with fingering and bow, with rounded phrasing and precise articulation." (Daily Telegraph, 17 February 2016)
"In Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, Opus 61, Canadian violinist James Ehnes, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra created unhurried expansiveness in the first movement, lingering sweetness in the second and buoyant joy in the finale. That, of course, is more or less what everyone tries to do, but sometimes the tempos can prove elusive. Too much indulgence and the magisterial drumbeat (which becomes at times a heartbeat) of the first movement evaporates in romantic fantasy – too little and the work fails to breath with humanity. When it all comes together, the piece becomes a profound expression of humility and radiance that few fail to respond to. In this case, it also had the extraordinary beauty and immaculately smooth sound that Ehnes draws from the Marsick Stradivarius violin that he plays. It has an elusive balance of colour, glow, firmness and sweetness that falls on the ear like the finest white wine you could imagine would fall on the palette. One could easily become addicted. Just as well he kept those tempos moving forward. This performance joins the pantheon of the SSO's most memorable of this work." (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February 2016)
January 25, 2016 | Reviews
"In the beginning there was Bach, and James Ehnes. You couldn’t ask for a more illustrious start to a festival...an eloquent reading of Bach’s solo Violin Sonata in G Minor. Music lovers drank in Ehnes’ performance — the purity of his phrasing, the precision of his intonation and the power of his interpretation. Clean, elegant lines and effortless playing made listeners forget what an athletic feat it really is to play at this level, with four Bach movements culminating in a sizzling, speedy finale that pushed at the boundaries of what is possible on the violin. The music waxed and waned so naturally, and Ehnes made this lyrical virtuosity sound so easy. The audience responded with an ovation that made it clear everyone was well aware they were hearing something rare and spectacular. The concert that followed brought Ehnes back to the stage, this time with pianist Andrew Armstrong, in a sonata from the other end of the violin spectrum: Bartok’s searing Sonata No. 1, a work of tremendous intensity and rough-hewed energy. Contrast was the key here, with Ehnes refining his sound in the second movement down to a mere thread before the two players launched into the wild, violent ride of the final allegro." (Seattle Times, 23 January 2016)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
October 10, 2015 | Reviews
“Canadian violinist James Ehnes laid down a memorable performance: subtle, exquisitely controlled, with a pure, focused, limpid tone that allowed even the most whisper-quiet passages to cut through the dense orchestration. The final movement slipped by like a dream. Ehnes made Prokofiev’s endless cascades of chromatic scales swirl delicately, like a tiny snowglobe blizzard." (Ottawa Citizen, 10 October 2015)
October 3, 2015 | Reviews
“Warmly received throughout the evening’s first half, there could be no denying Ehnes Friday night and his squeaky clean reputation for delivering sparkling, nearly flawless performances. And the Mozart Fifth Violin Concerto showed the Canadian star soloist at his fullest ease and comfort with that repertoire. He didn’t take many chances with the phrasing or the tone, befitting his unflappable artistic disposition, and as might be predicted, his unfailingly safe musical choices sat well with a very satisfied and enthusiastic audience. Even the Turkish Rondo third movement, though brisk in the celebrated A minor section and thus a little ill-timed at certain moments with the orchestra, still presented an enviable degree of panache. The lyrical second movement sustained powerful interest in the hall, and many appeared to hang on Ehnes’s every note. As a solo encore, Ehnes played the Presto finale of the Bach Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor, dispatching it with unbreathed virtuosity." (Calgary Herald, 3 October 2015)
September 30, 2015 | Reviews
“Isn’t it time we just came out and declared James Ehnes one of the greatest violinists of the day? He’s totally free of show business. Time after time he comes on, does the business with the music, as he did on Thursday with a lusciously-melodic account of Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, never misses a beat, and simply plays better than anyone else I know. And he seems such a nice guy. You know what he did on Thursday? After his concerto, he sat himself anonymously among the SSO strings, for the rare opportunity of playing in Mahler 10. Isn’t that lovely?” (Herald Scotland, 25 September 2015)
“James Ehnes paid Glazunov the compliment of taking him seriously, and he produced a beautifully cogent sound, full of cantabile tone and dazzling technique that almost felt wasted on the Russian’s music! Only at the end of the Mahler did I notice him sitting at the back of the first violins: he had sneaked in and played the whole symphony as part of the orchestra. Now that, almost more than the concerto, is a testament to his class and modesty.” (Seen & Heard International, 28 September 2015)
“[Ehnes was] a captivating soloist in Glazunov’s Violin Concerto. Ehnes always embraces the spirit of whatever work he is tackling – here, he gamely offered huge, husky low melodies and sultry slides between notes – but he also always sounds absolutely himself. His encore was the presto of Bach’s G minor solo sonata: fast, feather-light and muscular all at once.” (Guardian, 30 September 2015)
“James Ehnes (pictured above) made light work of Glazunov's short Violin Concerto. His playing is rich and precise, even slightly cool, but it was overlaid on an accompaniment that was perfectly judged. His Bach encore, from the G minor Concerto, was astonishing: a blizzard of notes delivered deadpan and with a Gould-like precision.” (ArtsDesk, 28 September 2015)
“a performance of Glazunov’s Violin Concerto that combined technical perfection with glowing, glittering musicality. His Bach encore was a supersonic sensation.” (Scotsman, 26 September 2015)
September 21, 2015 | Reviews
“There was no better place for the Wigmore Hall to begin its season-long Bartók Chamber Music series than with this brilliant recital devoted to works for violin and piano. No one today is better placed to play this music than James Ehnes. A versatile artist, the Canadian violinist has nevertheless made Bartók a speciality and the focus of a big recording project for Chandos. His commanding view of this repertoire allowed him to deliver a perfectly balanced programme reflecting four very different aspects of the composer's art... The Rhapsody No. 1 (1928) shows the composer's mature style and its way of integrating rural material (mostly Transylvanian tunes) into a sophisticated structure, all illuminated by Ehnes's bold and gleaming tone. He was matched in every detail by the imaginative pianism of Andrew Armstrong in a fiery performance... Hungarian dances flicker wistfully, yet this sonata calls for big-boned playing and received it from Ehnes's soaring violin and Armstrong's surging piano... Bartók the modernist was represented here by his elusive yet highly expressive Violin Sonata No. 2, a searching and restless work dedicated to Adila Arányi in 1922. It calls especially for a staggering range of violinistic technique, but both players met its challenges superbly in a vibrant performance.” (Daily Telegraph, 19 September 2015)
"Who could tire of the full, rich tone of Ehnes's 1715 Stradivarius? We heard it first in the folksy dances of the Rhapsody No 1, forcefully delivered. Yet it was the quirky E minor sonata that really scorched our ears. Ehnes's violin effortlessly darted between sweet lyrical sighs and hot gypsy passion. Armstrong's piano sprung its own surprises, mellifluous one moment, spikily showy the next. You could almost see Bartók forming himself in his bubbling crucible. Tonal varieties multiplied in the shape-shifting world of the Second Sonata. In the first movement I loved Ehnes's musing, quiet as a sleeping mouse, pitted against Armstrong's muffled chords; but that was just one moment among many in the work's mysterious carnival. The encore was incredible, too: Bartók's Andante, an early valentine, as candied as Korngold and for this superbly rewarding recital, the perfect goodnight kiss." (The Times, 21 September 2015)
Ausgut 20, 2015 | Reviews
“The Canadian violinist is an undeniably first-class artist as he showed once again, with playing that was supremely polished and immaculate throughout. Ehnes’ elegant style and the pure, silvery tone of his “Marsick” 1715 Stradivarius often seem best suited to music of Bach, Mozart or Mendelssohn….His strikingly beautiful playing conveyed the serenity and searching rumination of this elevated music, the violinist exploring an array of half-tones and nuanced expression, with equally sensitive support by Kalmar and the orchestra. The Rondo finale provided the requisite payoff with Ehnes’ springy rhythmic bounce in synch with the high spirits, rounded off with an explosive burst of fiddle bravura in the final cadenza. Ehnes received an immediate hug from his conductor and an extended, enthusiastic ovation from the audience.” (Chicago Classical Review, 20 August 2015)
August 4, 2015 | Reviews
“Violinist James Ehnes treat[ed] listeners to a sublime, bountifully expressive performance and coasting to an encore offering of Bach. Ehnes, put plainly, didn't just play the music. He consumed it. Through the opening Allegro he traced the most compelling, eloquent line, only to transform in the Presto into a fierce and dazzling fiddler.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 3 August 2015)
“It was clear within a few moments of its beginning that this performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, with guest soloist James Ehnes, was going to be something special. Ehnes and Mitchell gave a reading that was uncommonly poetic, striking a balance between the concerto’s lyricism and drama, showing a thorough understanding of Barber’s brand of mid-century American romanticism. Ehnes played with purity of tone but also with yearning richness of the violin’s lower range required by the concerto’s second movement.” (Backtrack, 3 August 2015)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Mar. 31, 2015 | News
"James Ehnes and Gloria Chien gave an elegant, unhurried interpretation of this delightful work [Mozart’s A-major Violin Sonata] that emphasized lyricism…Ehnes’s tone is consistently sweet, smooth, and true, and he was evenly matched by Chien’s eloquently plain-spoken phrasing and pearlescent tone.” (Classical Source, 30 March 2015)
“Mr. Ehnes and pianist Gloria Chien established themselves at once as asimpatico duo; throughout their rendering of Mozart's Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano, K. 526 (1787), they showed an acuity of dynamic sensibility that really drew me in. Regarded as Mozart's last significant violin sonata, the music calls for harmonious elegance of delivery, and the Ehnes/Chien partnership embraced it with lyrical affinity. In the central andante, their sense of the music's intimacy was particularly appealing, and Mr. Ehnes's ability to sustain long tones with a silken softness was impressive. Ms. Chien's fluidity of scale passages propelled the concluding Presto to its sparkling conclusion.” (Oberon’s Grove, 31 March 2015)
Mar. 13, 2015 | Reviews
"Film composer James Newton Howard has written a fresh-sounding new violin concerto, which received its world premiere performance in the hands of conductor Carl St.Clair, the Pacific Symphony and violinist James Ehnes on Thursday night in Segerstrom Concert Hall. The opening theme recalls Gerswhin’s “Summertime,” with its bluesy tint and lilt. The composer calls the second movement’s theme “a child’s melody” – it is simple and lovely but never saccharine. The finale features a folk-like dance melody that could have come from Bartók or Holst. The entire piece has a kind of pastoral feel to it, of bright sunshine and green meadows.
Though the solo violinist is occasionally called upon to play fast and furious, this is not really a virtuoso showpiece, nor is it a competition between soloist and orchestra. Even the solo cadenzas are more meditative than showy. On first hearing, Howard seems not to have forced anything in the work. If the concerto sometimes sounds like movie music (we all know what that means without being able to define it), it also avoids cliché, is tightly-knit and warmly, not cinematically, orchestrated.
Ehnes, a distinguished Canadian violinist, played the work, surprisingly, from memory...I liked the way he played it all calmly, neatly, honestly. These musicians will record the work this week during concerts and it will join “I Will Plant a Tree” on CD. The second movement of Howard’s work is dedicated to the memory of St.Clair’s son, Cole, as was the first piece on the program, Frank Ticheli’s “Rest,” this version for strings and mixed chorus. A setting of a poem by Sara Teasdale, the hymn-like “Rest” is tightly harmonized and Coplandesque in its simplicity. The Pacific Chorale donated its services for the performance, which was lush and peaceful."
(OC Register, 13 March 2015)
Mar. 7, 2015 | Reviews
“Ehnes dug into the cadenza, one written by violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, and tackled a set of sophisticated variations as if channeling them from the master. Ehnes’ economy of arm movement made its blistering passages look natural. He’s worth watching for his trills alone — silky smooth, even and sustained. Ehnes sailed through sustained trills that would cramp most fingers in no time. After the concerto, he rewarded the standing ovation with a Kreisler encore, the Caprice Viennois. Music Director Andrey Boreyko has made good on his promise to bring the Naples Philharmonic into encores this season, and the result was a rarely heard treat.” (Naples Daily News, 7 March 2015)
Feb. 23, 2015 | Reviews
“In Prokofiev’s concerto, however, the clear, elegant playing of violinist Ehnes seemed to put the orchestra on its mettle, as the soloist duetted prettily with individual players in the first movement and meshed as the principal voice in the organ-like orchestral sonorities of the finale. Denève deftly partnered him in weaving the work’s rapt atmosphere. The presence of Ehnes’s violin tone in the large hall seemed as intimate as chamber music, as he effortlessly projected the finest details of Prokofiev’s fantasy-like score. In the piece’s central scherzo, the violinist dazzled with scorching scales, left-hand pizzicato, slashing martellato, and fast, whistling harmonics, all without losing his impeccable cool. Ehnes received, and deserved, the biggest ovation of the night. He obliged with an encore, a tastefully swoony rendition of the Largo from Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin in C major, BWV 1005.” (Boston Classical Review, 20 February 2015)
“[Ehnes] was as elegant as ever. Ehnes was sheer perfection.” (Musical Intelligencer, 21 February 2015)
Jan. 13, 2015 | Reviews
Canadian violinist James Ehnes...gave a terrific performance of Mendelssohn’s concerto Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami with the New World Symphony led by guest conductor James Conlon. Of Ehnes’ virtuosity, there was no question, and he played without a trace of effort to disturb the smooth surface. But beyond that he brought an early Romantic sensibility to the performance, playing in an expressive but compact manner that brought out the concerto’s youthful vulnerability and high spirits. With a slender but singing tone, he phrased the plaintive opening melody with intensity and a touch of fragility, inflecting it in a manner that expressed its emotion without larding it with vibrato. The violinist was assertive and vigorous but never rough in the rapid-fire passagework and brought a keen sense of drama to the cadenza, suddenly dropping the volume and raising the speed as he began a series of trills that led up to a climactic passage of chords and arpeggios. In this dark minor-key melody [of the Andante], which climaxes with an ascent in octaves, Ehnes brought to the music a raw emotional intensity rarely heard in Mendelssohn but absolutely convincing in this passage. The last movement was a whirl of light, effortless virtuosity. Rarely will an encore eclipse the main event, but Ehnes’ performance of the Allegro assai from Bach’s Sonata No. 3 for solo violin came close. Although the work never calls for playing on more than a single string at once, Ehnes played it with brilliance, speed and dexterity. Most impressive was his overarching sense of structure, bringing out the polyphonic grandeur of Bach’s music, and showing why the composer’s solo violin works can still amaze after nearly 300 years." (Miami Herald, 12 January 2015)
Dec. 16, 2014 | Reviews
“The second piece was dedicated to Ehnes, who stepped on stage to take on Bruch’s ¬Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, op26. The 1866 concerto is renowned for its advanced technicality, with three movements exhibiting disparate moods and pace. The first section had Ehnes slowly making his impression felt. He quietly emerged from behind the flutes with a brisk cadenza, repeating the theme with increasing muscularity. The second movement was rich in melody as the violin introduced new ideas over an orchestra constantly on the move.
Ehnes took on a more rhythmic sound on the final section with the violin almost galloping over the orchestra to conclude with a energetic flourish.” (The National, 16 December 2014)
Dec. 12, 2014 | Reviews
"The virtuosity and versatility of the Canadian-born violinist James Ehnes is sometimes taken for granted, such is the apparent ease and nonchalance with which he plays. Inviting comparison to the great virtuosos of the past, this afternoon matinee, in which he played the Walton Violin Concerto – written for Jascha Heifetz – with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, was only the first of his two performances that day. In the evening, Ehnes played the Brahms Concerto, dedicated to Joseph Joachim, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, replacing their stricken soloist. When, on the Symphony Hall stage, conductor Andrew Litton announced that the concert would be broadcast live on Radio 3, Ehnes just raised his eyebrows in surprise and then smiled. Ehnes’s fearless response to both works spoke for itself. The fine balance of Walton’s reflective lyricism and its capricious displays of technique were handled with flair, and the tone that Ehnes produced high on the E string lent a sweetness to the music too often lost in more effortful performances. Litton’s instinct for the jazzy element in Walton’s score added to the scintillating effect." (Guardian, 12 December 2014)
“Ehnes delivered a wonderfully poignant, soul-searching account of the Walton, his rich, full tones seamlessly singing with resigned regret and Litton and the CBSO reciprocated with arching phrasing and piquant interjections.” (Birmingham Post, 10 December 2014)
“Ehnes gave a slender, poignant rendition of Walton's Violin Concerto...his rapid, yet very clean, double-stops and jumps morphed seamlessly into sweet, lyrical lines, whose clear and round sound in the lower and middle register was topped with filigree high notes.” (Bachtrack, 12 December 2014)
Oct. 13, 2014 | Reviews
“The Canadian James Ehnes was the soloist, and the lovely lyrical first theme on solo violin drew immediate attention to his considerable strengths – clarity of purpose, impeccable intonation, warmth of tone and understated virtuosity…Ehnes is one of those musicians who one senses immediately is there to serve the music, not some kind of Paganinian ego… Balance and sensitivity to the solo line was paramount here, every note from Ehnes ringing out clear as a bell… Ehnes tossed off the skittering scalic moments without batting an eyelid as he raced across the finish line to glory. This was flawless playing, and equally flawless was the Allegro assai from Bach’s Third Solo Sonata, which he offered as a welcome encore.” (Limelight Magazine, 11 October 2014)
“Brilliant Canadian violinist James Ehnes gave a compelling performance of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Opus 63 with a sound of utmost clarity and blemishless beauty. His playing has transparency and strength yet betrays no hint of undue forcefulness or harshness. The brooding opening of the first movement was purely shaped and musically cogent, while the second movement found a serenity rare in 20th-century works. The closest to anything boisterous came in the finale with its rustic double-stopped theme but Prokofiev ends with the stark originality of bare plucked chords.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 2014)
Sep. 28, 2014 | Reviews
“The concerto's refined lyricism could not ask for a more eloquent advocate than James Ehnes. The violinist's seamless technique, sweetness of tone and poetic instincts had the music soaring and sighing to compelling effect. He enjoyed supple backing from Alsop and the BSO (some muddling in the final measures aside). The Hollywood theme continued after the concerto, as Ehnes gave an eloquent, subtle account of John Williams' Theme from "Schindler’s List," again beautifully partnered by conductor and ensemble.” (Baltimore Sun, 27 September 2014)
“James Ehnes, is my kind of musician — fastidious, conscientious and unconcerned with showmanship. The difficult double-stops rang out thanks to his pinpoint intonation.” (Washington Post, 28 September 2014)