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CD Review

Max Bruch

Violin Concertos

  • Violin Concerto #1 in G minor, Op. 26
  • Violin Concerto #3 in D minor, Op. 58
James Ehnes, violin
Montréal Symphony Orchestra/Charles Dutoit
CBC Records SMCD5207 DDD 65:41
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Ehnes, who was born in Manitoba in 1976, studied violin in Canada and later at Juilliard, where he won the Peter Mennin Prize for "outstanding achievement and leadership in music." Erick Friedman, no slouchy violinist, has called Ehnes "a talent that comes around once in a hundred years."

Recently, I reviewed a disc of Prokofieff violin sonatas played by Ehnes and pianist Wendy Chen (Analekta fleurs de lys FL 2 3145). My verdict, when this pair was compared to Mintz and Bronfman, Perlman and Ashkenazy, and Sitkovetsky and Gililov, was that the disc was a pleasure, but not particularly special. I called it, for better and worse, an "everyday" reading.

Ehnes's Bruch makes a good impression. Neither his technique nor his musicianship can be faulted. Playing like this would be very welcome in performance; however, I am not sure how well it stands up to repeated listening, where one ideally wants something more. Ehnes has yet to show me a voice of his own. There's little about his interpretation that reveals his individuality. In a work as Romantic as Bruch's First Violin Concerto, pervasive objectivity is not really called for. Almost "everyone" has recorded this concerto, and recordings such as those by Menuhin, Heifetz, Laredo, and Stern offer more personality.

Bruch's Third Violin Concerto is hardly played at all; the First overshadows it. Ehnes, with less competition, makes a good case for it. Canadian violinist Albert Pratz believed in this concerto, and Pratz believed in Ehnes enough to give him the score and parts to the work shortly before Pratz's death. Again, there's little about Ehnes's playing to raise goosebumps of pleasure, but this is certainly a satisfying recording of a little-played, attractive, and – truth be told – somewhat prolix concerto.

Dutoit-collectors will want this CD because it presents their hero on a label other than Decca or Deutsche Grammophon. Twenty years from now it might be a collector's item. The playing of the Montréalers is excellent, and Dutoit is a sympathetic conductor. In fact, the lively orchestral work shows the soloist up a little.

The engineering is wonderfully realistic. CBC Records used the St. Eustache Church, a locale used in Decca's sessions as well.

Ehnes has got what it takes. I hope the divine fire takes hold of him soon.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle