The Strad issue
The Canadian violinist in fine form as both soloist and quartet leader
James Ehnes (violin) Ehnes Quartet, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Mark Wigglesworth
If Khachaturian’s super-heated Concerto is normally sustained at a high emotional setting with its rapier-like thrust indulged to the maximum, James Ehnes emphasises its lyrical trajectory with a golden outpouring of sound that suggests parallels with Scheherazade’s seductive spinning of tales. He solves the music’s not inconsiderable technical problems with effortless poise and precision – even the finale’s rampant moto perpetuo figurations are hoisted aloft with an exultant cantabile, enhanced by the gently cushioned engineering that convincingly replicates a concert-hall perspective.
Although the various members of the Ehnes Quartet have been playing together in various combinations for over two decades – alongside Ehnes are violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Robert deMaine – the ensemble was formally established only four years ago and this is its debut recording. The ensemble’s corporate technical and intonational security is exemplary, tonally well matched and without any suggestion of Ehnes heading the ensemble from the leader’s chair. Indeed, the pseudo-contrapuntal whirlwind that opens the finale of Shostakovich’s Seventh Quartet finds all four players hurling themselves into the musical fray with equal alacrity. Those who like their Shostakovich intensely sardonic, bitter and inconsolable may feel slightly emotionally short-changed here, but these are deeply committed performances nonetheless.