ALBUM TITLE: Barber , Korngold , Walton
WORKS: Violin concerto, Op. 14; Violin concerto in D, Op. 35; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin); Vancouver SO/Bramwell Tovey
CATALOGUE NO: ONXY 4016
This generously filled disc contains three ripe late-Romantic concertos of similar vintage: the American Samuel Barber’s of predominantly lyrical but with a whirlwind finale; the Englishman Walton’s of a heady mixture of sweet and sour, with a Mediterranean tang; and the Austrian emigré Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s of 1945 (but based largely on melodies from his prewar film scores for Hollywood) a gorgeous throwback to an earlier era.
The young Canadian violinist James Ehnes plays them all with attractive tone and formidable technical command. He may not offer any obvious new insights (the Barber still awaits the brave soloist and conductor who’ll take the first movement up to the marked tempo), but it’s all thoroughly musical and convincing. Bramwell Tovey and his Vancouver Symphony provide strong, warm support, though the recording makes the orchestra sound a little boxed in behind the soloist.
It was the great Jascha Heifetz who commissioned the Walton and championed the Korngold, and he recorded both with unmatchable brilliance and charm (the Walton, with the composer conducting, is now available on BMG, the Korngold on RCA). But among modern recordings the obvious comparison is with Joshua Bell, who couples the Barber and the Walton with Bloch’s Baal Shem. Bell takes the palm, thanks to the remarkable ease with which he negotiates even the most taxing of passages, his subtle shading of vibrato and dynamics and idiomatic use of portamento (gliding between notes) in the true Romantic tradition, and a more open-sounding recording. But the immensely talented Ehnes and his colleagues certainly give us plenty to enjoy in this highly attractive programme. Anthony Burton