Compelling narrative, technical genius, wit – what more could one ask for?

James Ehnes: Ysaÿe


The Strad Issue: July 2021

Description: Compelling narrative, technical genius, wit – what more could one ask for?

Musicians: James Ehnes (violin)

Works: Ysaÿe: Sonatas for Solo Violin

Catalogue number: ONYX 4198

Supreme technical facility comes as standard with James Ehnes, but for any doubters here is proof once more. Even the recorded sound, in which he had a hand, is excellent. This is polished, patrician playing. In the Fugato of the First Sonata the fugal lines are nicely phrased and even-toned, and there is grand, punchy playing of con brio multiple-stopped chords. The Obsession first movement of Sonata no.2 is fierce and muscular, and there are vivid theatrical contrasts in the last movement, Les Furies, as fragile when pp as it is furious when ff. In the Third Sonata, Ballade, Ehnes shows his skills as a raconteur, leading us through, and drawing us into, a compelling and complex narrative, full of glistening colour.

The two tranquillo sections in the Allemande of the Fourth Sonata are beguiling, and in the second Ehnes brings mournful grace to its flowing counterpoint. The Finale is a tour de force of agility and precision in moto-perpetuo semiquavers, with a joyful più animato finish. In the mysterious L’aurore movement of the Fifth Sonata Ehnes again has a story to tell, and there are delightful throwaway touches amid the bravura of the Danse rustique. Ehnes is sultry in the sixth sonata, playing with a degree of rhythmic freedom and some capricious wit.