ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto - James Ehnes

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PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY - Violin Concerto - James Ehnes (Violin) - Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor) - Sydney Symphony Orchestra - 880040407621 - Released: November 2011 - Onyx 4076

Over a fairly short period of time, Canadian violinist James Ehnes must have carved quite a few notches (figuratively speaking) on the back of his violin to indicate his rapid ascent up the ranks within the world of classical music. He is in constant demand on the world's concert stages as well as in various recording studios. From label to label, (Telarc, CBC, Analekta, Chandos, Onyx) most of his recordings have met with critical and public acclaim, have been showered with various awards, and have gone on to become bestsellers. One would think that he would be displaying musical fatigue by now, but instead he just seems to be getting better and stronger with each new release, and this one's no exception.

Hot on the heels of his recording of the Mendelssohn Concerto which received comments like "It just doesn't get any better than this", Ehnes takes on another giant from the violin concerto repertoire, the Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and immediately makes it yield to his expressive powers and signature sweet tone. This is a piece loaded with eloquent lines and cantabile phrases that, in the wrong hands can sound effusively sentimental, but James Ehnes and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy avoid these pitfalls and clearly play this as a "symphonic" Tchaikovsky rather than a "ballet" Tchaikovsky. The cadenza of the first movement is wonderfuly played here, but even better is the re-introduction of the movement's main motif that ensues, as the violin re-enters the earth's atmosphere. The middle slow movement in particular is very well done, with the violin taking on a darker character, a deeper voice, almost like a viola, perfect for the deep melancholy mood so typically slavonic often found in Tchaikovsky's writing. Conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy always keeps a tight lid on the orchestra throughout its many accompanying segments, but truly lets it shine when its time for it to burst forward.

The total timing of the CD is more than doubled by adding a few more works for violin by Tchaikovsky. The Sérénade mélancolique and the Valse-scherzo, both for violin and orchestra, and the Souvenir d'un lieu cher for violin and piano, in which Ashkenazy seamlessly slips into his other main role as pianist. It goes without saying that these are extended the same care and attention that was given to the main attraction on this disc. The recorded sound is so good that I didn't realize this was a 'live' recording until I read the notes.

Winner of a Canadian Juno Award in April 2013.

Jean-Yves Duperron - December 2011