The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: A rare collection of all three Bartók string concertos from a single soloist
Musicians: James Ehnes (violin/viola) BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
Composer: Bartók

James Ehnes takes a Romantic view of Bartók’s First Violin Concerto, with sensual phrasing and a rich, glowing tone. The first movement has about it the spirit of ecstasy, and the second is a frisky thing, witty, almost coquettish. The Second Concerto is a much more demanding affair, emotionally, structurally and technically. Ehnes plays it with astonishing command – even the most fearsome passages glisten, clear and immaculate. The first movement is a joyful experience, full of energy, laced through with sublime beauty. The second is wonderfully shaped, its phrasing intimate and vocal, while the faster central section is a weightless dance. The twists and turns of the finale are taken with grace and fluency, and the whole bubbles with infectious glee.

Ehnes the violist has a bit of bite to his playing, and a generous vibrato. His intonation is not always as immaculate as it is on the violin, but his is a thrilling, powerful account of the Bartók Concerto. He is aided and abetted by the BBC Philharmonic on the very top of its form, with terrific woodwind and hefty brass, and Gianandrea Noseda a sensitive, dynamic partner. The sound is clean and clear, with the soloist to the fore in a warm, resonant acoustic.