LABELS: Analekta Fleur de lys
WORKS: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin, BWV 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, 1006
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: FL 2 3147-8
The Canadian violinist James Ehnes will probably be unfamiliar to most readers but he is certainly a talent to watch. It is a courageous man who braves the exposed world of Bach’s solo violin works so near the start of his career, not least since these pinnacles of the repertoire have been recorded by some of the greatest players of the 20th century. All credit, then, to this young musician for performances which can stand comparison with the finest and, in purely technical terms at least, outshine some of them. Ehnes’s mastery of his instrument is quite exceptional: his sound is lustrous, his intonation flawless, his stamina untiring, even when faced with the monumental D minor Chaconne. Yet alongside playing of muscular virtuosity are some sublimely lyrical moments, notably in the reflective Grave and poetic Andante of the A minor Sonata. Above all, these are noble readings of a high seriousness – controlled, poised, totally untrammelled. Ehnes may only be in his mid-twenties, yet he conveys the gravitas of Bach’s language with mature assurance.
If I have one caveat, it is that at times the playing is a touch unyielding, and that such confident, extrovert performances lack the humility and tenderness that makes Arthur Grumiaux’s classic recording at once so poignant and so timeless. Nonetheless, this is an exceptional debut Bach disc and I hope Ehnes will return to these works later in his career when he will, no doubt, have even more to say. Kate Bolton