Bruce Hodges attends the concert at David Geffen Hall, NY, on 15 April 2019
The introspective air of the Sibelius Violin Concerto is a good match for the refined restraint of James Ehnes. Appearing with Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as part of Great Performers at Lincoln Center, the violinist was beguiling, especially in the sumptuous central slow movement.
Ehnes doesn’t yell, nor does he need to. To paraphrase, ‘speak softly and carry a big technique.’ His tendency to whisper (eloquently) meant that Gardner and the ensemble occasionally overpowered his utterances, but nevertheless, the violinist displayed masterful control. When he needed to growl, he did, such as in the rugged finale. Whether in octaves or double-stops, his intonation was pleasingly secure, and the sheer tone from his instrument – the 1715 ‘Marsick’ Stradivari – was often rapturous.
The evening began with a forceful Egmont Overture, with Gardner and the LPO musicians taking nothing for granted – perhaps a preview of Beethoven’s 250th birthday next year – and the orchestra’s strings front and centre. And after the interval the ensemble added even more strings for its plunge into Mahler’s First Symphony – tasteful but with gusto – emphasising the composer’s daring and innovation. The cellos and double basses were particularly on fire, especially the orchestra’s principal bassist in the lonely solo that opens the third movement.
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