The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor op.61, Serenade for Strings op.20.
Tuesday, 01 January 2008
James Ehnes (violin) Philharmonia Orchestra, Andrew Davis (conductor)
Onyx ONYX 4025
Andrew Davis and James Ehnes do not fall into the trap of exaggerating the wide mood swings of the first movement, and they never allow the tension levels in the more animated passages to overheat. Generous in his warmth, Ehnes brings tranquility to those moments where nowadays we find a mood of pastoral nostalgia, yet his prodigious technique makes light of the difficulties when the composer introduces outgoing virtuosity.
The opening of the slow movement unfolds with an easy and unsentimental grace, and the more animated section that follows is played without undue force. Davis, meanwhile, who throughout moves so intuitively with his soloist, goes out of his way to point dynamic nuances in the orchestral score.
Ehnes’s deeply felt and highly expressive musicianship enable his broad tempos to bring an uncommon lucidity to the score. There is never a lack of excitement at the appropriate points, but there are a few moments in the finale where greater urgency would not have gone amiss, and the cadenza lacks the sense of fantasy found in Albert Sammons’s incomparable 1929 recording of the work (Naxos).
The disc ends with an intimate and uncomplicated account of the Serenade, with the Philharmonia strings in fine form throughout. The recording comes from performances in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall last year, and the undoctored balance finds the soloist sucked into the general texture in tutti passages as one would have experienced in concert.
From the January 2008 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.