Overly urbane accounts of Stravinsky, though Ehnes impresses

James Ehnes: Stravinsky

The Strad Issue: March 2024

Description: Overly urbane accounts of Stravinsky, though Ehnes impresses

Musicians: James Ehnes (violin) BBC Philharmonic/Andrew Davis

Works: Stravinsky: Violin Concerto; Apollon musagète; Suites nos.1 and 2; Circus Polka

Catalogue number: CHANDOS CHSA5340

Performing styles in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto have come a long way since the rhythmically unyielding mask of 1960s modernity donned by the likes of Stern and Schneiderhan, and James Ehnes has given careful thought to the Italian Baroque models for each movement. The flux between song and recitative of the first Aria evokes a Monteverdian ballo – Ariadne abandoned on Naxos, perhaps – before Ehnes unfurls a spacious legato to paint a contrasting portrait of solitude in the raptly inward mood of the second Aria. The warmth of Ehnes’s G-string tone in the closing Capriccio nicely distinguishes it from the clockwork momentum of the opening Toccata.

If there persists a suspicion that Stravinsky is turning the lathe too smoothly in his practised groove of arch Neoclassicism, that may not be entirely the soloist’s fault. Davis elicits neatly sprung but not especially characterful accompaniment from the BBC Philharmonic. His account of the ballet Apollo (in its 1947 revision) would likewise be good for dancing, but falls short of memorable individuality in a crowded field. The transparency of the Chandos engineering underlines marginal imprecisions of ensemble; the miniature character sketches of the two suites come off more vividly, but there’s a keener, more satirical edge to both recording and playing in Chailly’s Decca recording with the London Sinfonietta.