James Ehnes performs violin concertos by Beethoven & Schubert with ‘warmth and sweetness’

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,JS Bach
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven • Schubert
WORKS: Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Romances Nos 1 & 2; Schubert: Rondo in A
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4167

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‘The whole gigantic scheme is serene’, the early 20th-century music analyst Donald Francis Tovey aptly remarked of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. It’s as though the composer had deliberately set out to write a work almost entirely devoid of tension within the essentially dramatic form of the concerto – much as he did for the symphony a couple of years later, with the Pastoral. It’s the Violin Concerto’s gently undemonstrative nature, particularly in its long first movement, that makes it difficult for the soloist to instil the music with character and contrast. The warmth and sweetness of James Ehnes’s tone stand him in very good stead, and his pianissimo playing conveys an admirable sense of mystery. He’s greatly helped by having a sympathetic fellow-violinist as conductor: Andrew Manze keeps a tight grip on things, never allowing the music to meander, as it sometimes can. This is essentially a traditional performance, even to the extent of using the well-worn cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler, but certainly none the worse for that.

The two Beethoven Romances, plus an A major Rondo Schubert probably wrote for his violinist brother Ferdinand, make substantial bonuses. Following its interesting introduction, the Schubert rather overstays its welcome, but the Beethoven pieces are deservedly popular. (The Romance No. 2 probably derives from the slow movement of a violin concerto composed in the early 1790s, the bulk of which hasn’t survived.)  The recording is first-rate, placing the solo violin in a realistic acoustic rather than thrusting it unnaturally into the foreground. 

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Misha Donat