Bartók: Violin and Viola Concertos

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin and Viola Concertos
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin, viola); BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10690

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Chandos has stolen a march on their rivals, bringing together all of Bartók’s concertos for string instruments onto one disc where most only muster two out of these three works. Of course, such generosity counts for nothing if the performances are not particularly distinguished. But Chandos could not have chosen a more ideal team for this project than James Ehnes, Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic.

Here they demonstrate an instinctive understanding for the different musical characteristics of each work, from the late-Romantic ardour of the First and the more complex Second to the introverted melancholy of the late Viola Concerto. While encapsulating these distinctive emotional worlds, they nonetheless maintain a tight grip over the music’s structural direction. In the first movement of Concerto No. 1, Ehnes’s supple phrasing of the opening melodic line, followed by the beautifully veiled orchestral accompaniment, sets up a great sense of expectancy. It is sustained throughout the movement as both soloist and conductor patiently build up the intensity to the final climax. They are equally impressive in charting the almost schizophrenic changes of mood that characterise all three movements of the Second, while Ehnes’s dark tone, coupled with the more subdued orchestral accompaniment, brings tremendous poignancy to the Adagio religioso of the Viola Concerto.

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Chandos have done soloist, conductor and orchestra proud with a warmly engineered recording that allows us to hear a wealth of inner detail. Erik Levi