6 Sonatas for solo violin, Op.27
James Ehnes (violin)
Onyx ONYX 4198 65:48 mins
Some music has proven to be particularly suited to lockdown. In the case of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, it is not just that their self-standing nature makes them ideal for a soloist who is entirely alone; each of these half-dozen masterpieces creates a musical world of intense allusion and profundity reflecting what it is to be an individual part of collective humanity. James Ehnes turned to these remarkable pieces in June 2020 for a series of six filmed ‘Recitals from Home’, recorded in his living room at night and made available on his website. Ehnes originally paired each Ysaÿe sonata with one of Bach’s sonatas and partitas, but it makes sense to hear them on disc as a complete ear-bending cycle (the Bach will be released in a few months).
Ehnes’s breathtaking virtuosity is subsumed entirely into the musicality of these performances, bubbling to the surface only for passages such as the swashbuckling defiance that concludes the Third Sonata. The utterly convincing sense of dialogue that opens the Second Sonata’s ‘Malinconia’ makes it hard to remember that Ehnes is alone, while the desolate hush when the ‘Dies irae’ enters is spine-tingling. There are a few places where the presence of an audience might have encouraged Ehnes to push things a little further. The habanera half-way through the sixth sonata, for instance, could swagger more teasingly. These are trifling caveats, though, in a project that stands as a worthy testament to remarkable times.