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Mythes (Ehnes/Armstrong)

James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano) (Onyx)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Works by Szymanowski, Suk,  Handel, Grainger, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov et al
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)
Onyx ONYX4234   50:51 mins

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A strange mishmash of a programme, with two substantial works followed by a succession of what Ehnes frankly describes as encores. The album takes its title from Szymanowski’s suite, each of its three movements inspired by a Greek myth: the ‘Fountain of Arethusa’ is the most familiar, and Ehnes shapes its sensuous, winding line with a plethora of shade and colour, over the watery curlicues of Armstrong’s piano. ‘Narcissus’ is more overtly passionate, and has greater homogeneity of texture, with some impressive double-stops and a winning flow to the rubato and dynamic build-up; whilst ‘Dryads and Pan’ contrasts skittish and impulsive moments with an underlying erotic charge.

If you like your Handel with a romantic veneer, the performance of the D major Sonata, HWV 371 will appeal. Full-toned, with vibrato always in evidence – although it does have a wide variety – it barely acknowledges the influence of the historically authentic brigade in terms of dynamic shaping, which makes the Affettuoso and Larghetto sound old-fashioned. The piano is a further anachronism, but tempos are lively in the fast movements and rhythms tight, even if the smooth legato playing tends to rob the music of some of its edge.

The encores, including Suk’s Burleska, show off the soloist’s virtuosity and sensibility, with Armstrong a worthy accomplice.

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Martin Cotton