James Ehnes: Beethoven

James Ehnes: Beethoven

The Strad Issue: July 2020

Description: Ehnes and Amstrong score a hat-trick with Beethoven sonatas

Musicians: James Ehnes (violin) Andrew Armstrong (piano)

Works: Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos.4, 5 and 8; Rondo; Six German Dances

Catalogue Number: ONYX 4208

This third instalment in James Ehnes’s outstanding Beethoven sonata series with Andrew Armstrong confirms the special qualities of the previous releases: immaculate ensemble, balancing and intonation, mellifluous phrasing, a sense of the music’s structure unfolding seamlessly and an infectious spontaneity, which creates the impression of these gifted players discovering the music’s special qualities as if for the first time.

There is an interpretative robustness and integrity about these performances that recalls classic cycles of the past, from the likes of David Oistrakh/Lev Oborin (Philips/Decca), Isaac Stern/Eugene Istomin (CBS/Sony), and most especially Itzhak Perlman/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca). Yet Ehnes also subtly cushions his sound (where appropriate) and traces the music’s textural chicanery without the slightest whiff of ‘soloist at work’.

Some might feel that the perceived cut-and-thrust of Beethoven’s creative personality is a shade under-projected here. Yet the perfection of Ehnes’s tonal control – every note possesses a blemishless radiance – is a constant source of wonder. So, too, Armstrong’s uncanny ability to partner the violin in a way that subtly disguises the disparity between the two instruments’ sonic potential (of which Beethoven was all too aware). Indeed, given their profound cantabile trajectory – enhanced by the engineering’s gentle sonic glow – it is difficult to imagine more accomplished performances of these endlessly fascinating scores.