“One of the most gifted and sincerely expressive artists to have emerged in recent times."
English reviews German reviews
Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin / Vladimir Ashkenazy / Elgar Violin Concerto
“There was thunderous applause at the end of the fifty-minute piece, as Canadian soloist James Ehnes has everything at his disposal: careful phrasing, colours, technique, a Stradivarius… Ehnes understands both introversion and brilliance.”
Der Tagesspiegel, February 2014
“Not only does James Ehnes play the entire piece in spotless fashion (extending even as far as his sometimes rather abruptly heated gestures), but he also displays an intense narrative tone which possesses the full qualities of an unmistakeable voice radiating an almost physical presence, enabling him to captivate the audience. It is a powerful tone, austere and a little nasal, extremely resilient on the middle strings, but at its most expressive in his high playing on the G string – never constricted – which shapes large stretches of this piece.”
Berliner Zeitung, February 2014
Tchaikovsky Recording (Chandos)
Swan Lake Op. 20 / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi
“Ehnes seems to embody Prince Siegfried, his playing by turns tender, poised and athletic. Simply heavenly doesn’t seem an out of place phrase to describe the chamber-like intimacy conveyed here.”
Gramophone, March 2014
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Donald Runnicles / Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1
“At the heart of this concert by Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was a staggeringly powerful performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, with playing so eloquent and direct from Canadian violinist James Ehnes that it almost eclipsed the rest of the programme…
It was Ehnes's soulful, impeccable, engulfing Shostakovich that made this concert unforgettable. His control and range of colour were masterful: the sound was woody and dark, at turns urgent, mournful and vulnerable; and the long, troubled phrases that underpin the Concerto unfurled as if without a beginning or an end. The cadenza was devastatingly frank and seemed to consume him. The orchestra responded with icy quiet passages, heartbreaking tenderness in the passacaglia and flashes of hot brutality. The performance prompted a rare standing ovation, and rightly so.”
Guardian, December 2013
“It was the Shostakovich Concerto – or, more specifically, Canadian violinist James Ehnes’s astonishingly intense performance – that proved the evening’s revelation. It’s one of the Soviet composer’s “for the drawer” works – written as Shostakovich was coming under attack for anti-state formalism by Stalin's Politburo henchmen, hence hidden and only revealed once artistic conditions had thawed a little.
And with its unremittingly bleak, grotesque music, it’s hardly the most immediately approachable concerto – which made Ehnes’s unforgettable performance all the more remarkable.
He plotted the course of the first-movement Nocturne’s endless melody with expert precision, and seemed to deliver the bitterly ironic second-movement Scherzo – full of violin pyrotechnics, which he negotiated with calm brilliance – through gritted teeth. He was unshowy yet technically flawless, and he offered the music with touching sincerity and a deep seriousness.
There are few violinists around who can make that concerto speak so directly – no wonder the audience was on its feet at the end.”
Daily Telegraph, December 2013
“So when they do jump to their feet it has to have been for something extra special, which itself is almost too feeble a way to describe the performance last night by Canadian soloist James Ehnes of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1, under the baton of Donald Runnicles.
It was the centrepiece of a substantial programme – surrounded either side by Beethoven’s Symphony No 4 and John Adams’ City Noir – but in its own right was an entirely consuming experience in every possible sense. From the aching rumination of the opening nocturne to the dizzy exuberance of the finale, Ehnes’ vast and effortless mahogany tone cut a swathe that breathed soul and character into every moment.
There was devilish excitement in the scherzo, suppressed ecstasy in the slow inexorability of the passacaglia, and jaw-dropping virtuosity in the absorbing cadenza.”
Scotsman, December 2013
Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Chicago Symphony Center / Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1
“James Ehnes is a superb artist and a musician of great taste and technical polish. Rarely will one hear this music played with such spot-on intonation and technical gleam. The soloist hurdled all the work’s myriad complexities with ease, and the barnstorming bravura was dashed off with pinpoint precision.”
Chicago Classical Review, December 2013
“Ehnes is an artist I've long admired and it was easy to understand why the audience, orchestra and Deneve himself applauded his Shostakovich so heartily: You won't hear this music played more skillfully than here. The soloist drew you into this 1948 masterwork with the silken tone and poised elegance he brought to the opening Nocturne, and he had the crowd jumping to its feet following the giddy Burlesque finale, which he took at a death-defying clip without missing a note.”
Chicago Tribune, December 2013
Toronto Symphony / Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto / Britten Violin Concerto
“If there were a Nobel Prize for violin, I would nominate James Ehnes. His playing of Britten’s Violin Concerto with the Toronto Symphony was drenched with emotions – pathos, irony, lamentation, sarcasm, tenderness and bliss – displayed and at the same time bounded by the discipline of his virtuosity, that like a diamond, radiated brilliance without attracting attention to itself...
Ehnes is also a study in contrasts, in that while his violin weeps, or skylarks to sul ponticello heights, or scatters sprays of pizzicati, or scrapes broken bursts of single- and double-stopped zigs and zags, or skitters up and down scales both melodic and dissonant, his demeanor never changes, his posture never abandons discipline. Only his instrument speaks. One finds oneself bathed in the pleasure of the specific emotions Britten’s music invokes with a general sense of also being buoyed by admiration of the boundless talent Ehnes shares. For the most serendipitous moment of unimaginable pleasure in this performance, I would choose a passage midway through the second movement where the flawless whistle of Ehnes’ violin merged invisibly with the voice of the piccolo.”
Bachtrack, October 2013
Prokofiev Recording (Chandos)
Complete Works for Violin (Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2, Sonata for Two Violins, Sonata for Solo Violin, Sonatas Nos.1 & 2, Five Melodies) / BBC Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda / Andrew Armstrong, Amy Schwartz Moretti
“This is not quite the first set by a single soloist of Prokofiev’s violin works… but it is certainly the most enticing. I have not heard such a beautiful performance of the First Violin Concerto Since Itzhak Perlman’s 1982 EMI recording, and Ehnes enjoys the advantage of a more natural balance with the orchestra, so one can really hear the detail of Prokofiev’s finely scored and inspired orchestration. There is the vernal beauty of the various settings of the opening theme on its return at the end of the first and final movements; and the gossamer-light scherzo dances, full of child-like energy and excitement…A real winner.”
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, November 2013
“James Ehnes’s particular combination of matchless virtuosity, sweet tone, flowing tempi and interpretative restraint suits all this music down to the ground”.Gramophone
, October 2013
“[Noseda’s] Russian immersion lends dividends…to Ehnes’s sizzling accounts of the two popular concertos. Just as compelling are the chamber works: the Second Sonata, composed first, is a transcription of the wistful, witty Flute Sonata; the later work in F minor, No.1, is a brooding masterpiece that looks forward to late Shostakovich. Ehnes and his pianist give performances worthy of the giants (Oistrakh and Richter) for whom their parts were conceived.”
Sunday Times, September 2013
“Wow. Everything works here. James Ehnes rarely disappoints, and the playing on this beautifully recorded two-disc set is immaculate. It’s not just the musicality, the remarkable ability to give shape and colour to the thorniest solo writing, but his modesty – he’s a player who knows exactly when to step back and let collaborators take the spotlight. You hear that in these readings of the two Prokofiev violin concertos. Ehnes begins the Concerto No 1’s rapturous cantilena with nonchalant grace. The effect is totally unselfconscious, and the same thing happens in the G minor concerto’s Andante assai, as if Ehnes doesn’t want to shift attention away from Prokofiev’s quirky staccato clarinet line. It helps that the accompaniments are so idiomatic – Gianandrea Noseda’s lithe, lean-toned BBC Philharmonic are superb partners. Listen to the quirky tick-tocking which opens the first concerto’s final movement and marvel at how Ehnes floats slyly above. Both performances are fabulous, and among the best you’ll hear.
What makes this set essential are the couplings; we get all of Prokofiev’s solo violin music. The Op.56 Sonata for two violins has Ehnes teamed with Amy Schwartz Moretti. The music’s clean, neo-classical contours are boldly projected, and there’s a rare sense of fun…Unmissable.”
The Arts Desk, September 2013
“Ehnes is joined by Amy Schwartz Moretti for an electrifying performance of the duo sonata… In their mix of lyricism and sharp-edged rhythmic and harmonic piquancy, Ehnes and Moretti are absolutely spot on in defining the music’s character. This is playing that truly grabs you by the scruff of the neck and commands attention.”
Daily Telegraph, five stars, October 2013
Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival / Bach, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Ravel / Andrew Armstrong
“Sublime? No, that’s not the word. In fact, is there a word that can begin to do justice to James Ehnes’ rendition of the Bach Partita in D minor Tuesday evening? Yes, the one that ends in the mighty Chaconne, one of the most noble works of music ever conceived.
James Ehnes is among the world’s finest violinists. Several commentators have compared him to Heifetz and the comparison is not an exaggeration. His technique is clean and brilliant and his musicality is jaw-dropping…
There was much to smile about all evening, but never quite as much as during the partita. If one didn’t smile during the performance, especially during the Chaconne, most people will do so inwardly for years to come. The big, rich and infinitely subtle sounds he made with his Ex Marsick Stradivarius was majestic and, well, the performance of every movement was deeply satisfying, but the Chaconne was beyond praise, or at least any words of praise that I know. And although standing ovations are a dime a dozen, it’s unusual for the audience to be on its feet within five or six seconds of the music’s end.”
Ottawa Citizen, August 2013
Britten and Shostakovich Recording (Onyx)
Britten Violin Concerto op.15 and Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1 op.77 / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits
“Technical mastery of a very difficult score, total conviction and narrative strength stand out here…
This superb performance [of the Britten] is coupled with one of the finest modern performances of Shostakovich’s glorious A minor Concerto that I have ever heard…
You will need to go back to one of David Oistrakh’s many performances to find anything to rival the near-deranged wildness of the second movement here, with some astonishing playing in the stratosphere and a closing passage that will have you out of your seat. The soloist’s beautiful, singing reply to the baleful introduction to the third movement brings just a little hope: and at a nicely flowing tempo this ray of light is maintained throughout… The inspired cadenza is dispatched with stunning virtuosity, leading into a finale where the tension is screwed up, notch by notch, to an almost unbearable degree. The final pages are as exciting as Oistrakh’s, and praise doesn’t come much higher than that.”
International Record Review, September 2013
“Everything hits the mark here. The incisive, virtuosic orchestral backing from Kirill Karabits' Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is a perfect foil for James Ehnes’ jaw-dropping solo playing. The Britten has never opened with such cool poise; a few timpani and cymbal strokes, and a success of quizzical, sighing string chords pave the way for Ehnes’ entry. It’s already a startling, potent melody, but hearing how Ehnes shapes it, carefully turning the screw until we reach the first orchestral tutti is the stuff of record critics’ dreams. Or that hushed dialogue between soloist, timps and hushed strings five minutes into the movement. It's sublime... The sardonic scherzo is a blast, but it’s the closing passacaglia which carries the greatest weight. You half hope that the work will end happily, but Britten’s doleful trombone theme signals that things won’t go well. I’ve never been so gripped by this work, and Ehnes nails the heartbreak, the frustration in the ambivalent final minutes. Possibly the greatest recording that this concerto has received.
Ehnes’s Shostakovich is just as good. The opening Nocturne unfolds with dark stealth, and the third movement Passacaglia plumbs alarming depths. So it’s such a relief, after a brilliantly played cadenza, to reach a Burlesque finale which at last closes proceedings in a mood of optimism. Karabits’ Bournemouth winds scream out in defiance, and the orchestral strings send up clouds of smoke. Everything works, and the recording is transparent and well balanced. Essential listening.”
The Arts Desk, June 2013
“This new coupling [of the Britten Violin Concerto] with Shostakovich’s First Concerto by James Ehnes and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits is of a particularly distinguished stature.
Ehnes’s versatility as a violinist has been demonstrated through an impressive range of CDs, but the more important quality that emerges from them all is his deep affinity with the style of the music, however diverse, that he is playing. The same is signally true of these two concertos.
Both works have a marked seriousness and expressive weight about them. Virtuosity is not exploited in any facile, ingratiating way but rather to intensify the substance of the music. Ehnes has full measure of it and of its eloquent application... In both of them, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra adds compelling force and colour, Ehnes’s range and inflections of tone and his mature spectrum of interpretation gauged with exceptional insight. The partnership between Ehnes, Karabits and the BSO comes across as a true meeting of minds, and these outstanding performances cannot be recommended highly enough.”
Daily Telegraph, June 2013
“It is a mystery why Ehnes is not more well-known in Germany. He does not have to hide behind the Zimmermanns, Tetzlaffs and Kavakosses of this world. This is something proved again by his new CD...James Ehnes should play a more important role here in Germany.”
NDR Kultur, June 2013
“These inspired performances are subtle and persuasive as well as fiery. James Ehnes plays with a powerful lyricism which makes the complexities melt away.”
The Observer, June 2013
“James Ehnes’s mastery is breathtaking in both works... every double-stopped chord and octave gleams, every demi-semi quaver rings true, which is not to detract from the profound sincerity of his performance.”
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, July 2013
“James Ehnes’s sinewy tonal lustre, dazzling technique and Perlman-like ability to soar whenever a decent melody comes along, works wonders in the Britten. If such fine interpreters as Rodney Friend and Ida Haendel have in the past leaned more disturbingly towards the ‘dark side’ of Britten’s creative psyche, by revelling in the music’s virtuoso élan, Ehnes proves beyond a doubt that the Violin Concerto deserves an honoured place alongside those by Elgar and Walton.”
Sinfini Music, June 2013
“Two fantastic concertos and one outstanding violinist: what’s not to like about this stunning coupling of Britten’s biting, Spanish-flavoured 1938 Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s sweetly pungent Violin Concerto No.1 of a decade later, featuring the violinist James Ehnes?
The solo playing is immaculate, Ehnes combining power and intensity with a quality of tone that is molten, luscious and superbly consistent... this is a disc that presents serious stuff in a lustrous, compelling way.”
The Scotsman, May 2013
“I never cease to listen in awe at the supernatural control violinist James Ehnes has over his bow. His latest album, featuring the Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich concertos with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra... commands instant and total respect.
This Onyx release with conductor Kirill Karabits puts Ehnes in the position of having to be at once strong and delicate, lyrical as well as dispassionate, cool but not devoid of humanity. And somehow all of these emotional attributes need to both inform and be conjured by finely tuned physical movements. Ehnes is brilliant on all counts...”
Musical Toronto, May 2013
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Bridgewater Hall / Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.2
“Canadian violinist James Ehnes and Gianandrea Noseda, now the BBC Philharmonic's conductor laureate, have become something of a partnership of choice as far as the 20th-century violin concerto is concerned. After notable successes, both live and on disc, with Bartók, they've turned their attention to Prokofiev, whose Second Violin Concerto, flanked by music by Rossini and Stravinsky, formed the centrepiece of this exceptional concert that found both of them at their best.
Ehnes's no-frills approach works wonders with Prokofiev. The sombre first movement, by turns barbed and lyrical, was beautifully understated, and its tricky combination of harmonic bitterness, muted virtuosity and melodic expansion flawlessly judged. The finale, with its biting folk rhythms and pungent dissonances, was weighty, witty and sharply focused. The work's chief glory, however, is the central Andante, with its slowly unfolding melody, which ranks among the most ravishing things in Prokofiev's entire output. Ehnes delivered it with exquisite poise.”
The Guardian, February 2013
Bartok Recording (Chandos)
Solo Violin Sonata Sz117, Violin Sonata Sz20, Hungarian Dances, Hungarian Folk Tunes, Romanian Folk Dances / Andrew Armstrong
“James Ehnes’s Bartok is full of emotional intensity and he meticulously follows the composer’s dynamics and fluctuations. The technical demands of the Solo Sonata evaporate in a performance of stunning virtuosity and Ehnes reminds us how the choral structure reveals the debt that Bartok owed to Bach. The opening ciaccona is played with unfailing accuracy of intonation. On reaching the third movement, Ehnes caresses the strings with more beauty than most, before moving into an electrifying account of the finale’s opening Presto.”
The Strad, April 2013
“Ehnes gives a stunning account of the Solo Sonata. The impression is that he’s simply following all Bartok’s meticulous direction – bowing, dynamics, modifications of tempo – and adding nothing extra. If that seems boring, the effect is anything but: clarity of articulation, beauty of sound, the ease with which he surmounts the technical challenges, and deep understanding of the work’s structure and character; all these combine to make a performance that’s exciting and enthralling …
The three suites of folk pieces are performed in authentic style and with irresistible panache. If anyone doubts Ehnes’s status as a wizard of the violin, they should listen to the way he plays the harmonics.”
Gramophone, January 2013
“So far in his amazing career, Brandon, Man., native James Ehnes has turned into gold every note touched by his violin bow. His second album devoted to the music of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945) is nothing short of spectacular. The attraction of Bartók’s music is that you can enjoy the late-Romantic side as well something more modern... Ehnes has his feet firmly planted on the earthiness of the folk elements as he tosses off this virtuosic music with panache… This album is a wonder from beginning to end.”
Toronto Star, January 2013
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Colston Hall, Bristol / Britten Violin Concerto
“Ehnes’s sound had the beauty of burnished steel as he roamed the stratosphere, the poise of his playing complementing the poise of this music which might have been written to show off his talents, for his sound is absolutely Protean.
Required in the Scherzo to swoop and slide like a Transylvanian village fiddler, he went on to deliver a brilliant cadenza, musingly at first and then catching fire, before ushering in the majestically sweeping threnody of the Passacaglia. Here he dazzled, going through a series of duets with different instruments using a different timbre each time, making quick-fire contrasts between legato and pizzicato, at one point effortlessly bowing a leaping melody on one string while plucking another, and finally making his instrument speak with two voices, one low and richly sonorous and the other high and pure, and in the latter mode drifting off into space.”
The Independent, December 2012
“The arrival of violinist James Ehnes lofted the evening to a higher plane. He played the concerto by Benjamin Britten, one of those brittle pieces from the 1930s… In this performance you could almost believe the piece had a heart, thanks to the beauteously radiant tone and razor-sharp tuning Ehnes brought to it. Thanks to him, and the similarly immaculate orchestral playing, the aloof quality of the closing Passacaglia seemed nobly restrained rather than merely cool.”
The Daily Telegraph, Ivan Hewett, December 2012
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Poole Lighthouse / Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1
“The heart of the concert was an extraordinary performance of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No.1 with the brilliant James Ehnes as soloist. Apparently encountering no technical problems in this hazardously difficult work, Ehnes transmitted its mood of bitter melancholy and dry-eyed grief with alert, responsive support from the orchestra.”
The Observer, December 2012
London Symphony Orchestra / Lincoln Center New York / Brahms Violin Concerto
“Mr. Ehnes teamed with Mr. Gergiev for a spacious and calmly intense account of the Violin Concerto. Mr. Ehnes has technical brilliance to spare, but there was not a trace of flashiness in his majestic, poetic and transparent playing.”
New York Times, October 2012
International Beethoven Project, Chicago / Beethoven Violin Concerto
“Ehnes chose a smart tempo, avoiding many of the fussy mannerisms that have accumulated in this mammoth concerto over the centuries. The sweet lyricism of his second movement soared into every corner of the hall, and expressions of deep appreciation could be seen on patrons and musicians alike. I don’t recall ever hearing a more probing, intelligent, and moving account of this warhorse.”
Chicago Classical Review, September 2012
Ehnes Quartet / Seattle Chamber Music Summer Festival / Ravel
“Sunny, shimmering and subtle, the Ravel String Quartet in F Major wound up the program with a performance that was just flat-out beautiful... With a patrician lead from Ehnes, and urgent, committed playing from the ensemble, each movement of the Ravel was like another twist of an exotic kaleidoscope. The near-capacity audience stood and cheered, grateful to be in the house on such a shining night.”
Seattle Times, July 2012
Seattle Chamber Music Summer Festival / Bartok Violin Sonata No. 1
“Ehnes just goes from strength to strength as a violinist; he's better every year. In the Bartok, he changed the focus of his sound the way a photographer adjusts an image from hazy to sharp and back again. The ruminative Adagio sounded like an extended meditation, personal and spontaneous. In the hair-raising wild ride of the blazing final Allegro, Ehnes at one point briefly examined his violin, and one wondered if he were looking for scorch marks... The audience leapt up with the kind of ovation that only follows a really electrifying performance.”
Seattle Times, July 2012
Ehnes Quartet / Montreal Chamber Music Festival / Ravel
“The achievement went beyond individual and collective playing which was irreproachable from beginning to end. It was astonishing not only for the beauty produced by the four bows but even more on the level of expression attained in so little time by the four members. What talent, intelligence and sensitivity. The expressive nuances in the tempo, the invitations to lyricism or agitation: everything was fully interpreted.”
La Presse, May 2012
“Before a large and enthusiastic Montreal Chamber Music Festival audience in St. George's Church, Ehnes showed that a great virtuoso can also be a sensitive chamber music soul.
The program concluded with the Canadian debut of Ehnes' recently-formed quartet (Ehnes, deMaine, violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, and violist Richard O’Neill) in an exceptional performance of Ravel's String Quartet, which signaled an important new force in the chamber music arena(…)
The quartet laid out the score so finely in synch with each other it was as if they were an extension of Ehnes' own sound and phrasing.
Make no mistake, this was definitely the playing of an ensemble: the big pizz sections in the second movement made one anticipate eagerly what a performance of Beethoven's Harp Quartet might be like; the stroked and pizzicato chords under the viola solo in the third movement were magically judged; their trills in the same movement unexpectedly recalled the most intimate moments of Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice; and the ending was a thing of quietly ravishing, silken beauty.
Throughout, Ehnes' presence and leadership recalled the virtues of other great virtuoso-led quartets—the Busch and Oistrakh Quartets, especially—where, at key moments, his exceptional voice emerged from the ensemble to provide the kind of high-voltage thrills that are so rare with conventionally-constituted quartets and which reward both the audience and the composer.”
Strings, May 2012
Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Stéphane Denève / Barber Violin Concerto
“The Barber concerto, with its delicious melodies and alluringly sweet naïvety, was a stunning showcase for Ehnes, whose effortless musicality, immaculate technique and molten tone production captured every nuance.
After the sizzling finale came two show-stopping encores of Paganini (the famous Caprice No 24) and unaccompanied Bach. Superlative.”
The Scotsman, May 2012
“It helps when [Barber’s Violin Concerto] is played by James Ehnes, a violinist of the very highest order. His technique is flawless and often breathtaking (he showcased it in encores of two of Paganini’s Caprices) but I love the simplicity of his playing style, direct and unfussy, refusing to hog the limelight. He plays with modest brilliance, a flawless line of melody gushing from his instrument, most impressive of all when the violin finally gets round to playing the main theme of the second movement, played here with all the deep richness of mahogany.”
Seen and Heard International, May 2012
“There was a definite sense of occasion to Denève's second-last programme as music director of the RNSO – not least thanks to the stellar presence of Canadian violinist James Ehnes…
His account of Barber's Violin Concerto was earnest and searching and extremely moving, not the blithe Americana some make the piece. He was generous spirited, too, with two encores: Paganini's 24th Caprice – oodles of notes but not a single one misplaced – and, highlight of the evening, a radiant and peaceful third movement of Bach's third solo sonata.”
The Herald, May 2012
Bartok Recording (Chandos)
Violin Sonata nos.1 & 2, Rhapsodies nos.1 & 2, Andante in A major / Andrew Armstrong
“James Ehnes brings to the two rhapsodies a superheated tonal intensity. He can be delicate of course, and has real rhythmic bite, but this is red-blooded playing, the bow quarrying into the string to match the rich and varied vibrato, and when Ehnes is in full flow high on the G string or dashing off handfuls of double-stops it’s thrilling stuff.
He and Andrew Armstrong spar tremendously through this tough and lengthy work, covering an extensive expressive and emotional range. The quiet central section of the first movement inhabits a strange, musing landscape of fluent, uneasy melodic shapes and figurations. From the long unaccompanied opening of the Adagio onwards, Ehnes weaves Bartók’s extended lines like spells. The hectic finale is terrific.
The less dense, astringent Second Sonata is full of beauty and nuanced tonal eloquence; the details captivate and have great cumulative power. The delightful early Andante provides a refreshing sorbet.”
The Strad, April 2012
Tchaikovsky Recording (Onyx)
Violin Concerto in D Op.35, Sérénade mélancolique, Valse-scherzo, Souvenir d’un lieu cher / Sydney Symphony Orchestra / Vladimir Ashkenazy
“The soloist is the wondrous James Ehnes, a thinker of the violin as well as a supreme virtuoso of the instrument. Listen to his mellifluous, muted line in the central canzonetta, his natural lyricism imbued with apt, reflective colours, and you experience an artist of the first order.
Ashkenazy also paints a discreet backdrop here, focusing subtly on individual instrumental timbres in a way that complements Ehnes’s approach ideally. Ehnes is not a violinist to use bravura as an end in itself.
His dexterity is a marvel of lightness and precision in the finale, but it is consistently aimed towards a musical goal, the range of tone beautifully judged and, as in the first movement, the structure and direction kept in clear view. This is a consummate performance, supplemented here by the poignant Sérénade mélancolique, the buoyant Valse scherzo and, with Ashkenazy as pianist, the Souvenir d’un lieu cher. All in all, the disc makes a fine start to 2012.”
The Daily Telegraph, January 2012
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra / Louis Langrée / Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3
“Ehnes’s tone is notably beautiful, with its pitch-perfect attack, roundedness and consistent gleam. This artist knows how to make individual phrases memorable within long, cogently thought-through musical paragraphs, giving the kind of light-filled reading that made one want to hear him in all five of the Mozart concertos.”
The Washington Post, October 2011
Bartok Recording (Chandos)
Violin Concertos No. 1 & No.2, Viola Concerto / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda
“James Ehnes offers us the most ‘Heifetzian’ recording yet, a vibrant, tender-hearted, boisterously youthful account... The alternation of serenity and dizzying, up-tempo mood-swings has rarely been more securely focused. I can’t think of a finer CD version of the First Concerto than this...
I challenge any reader to name a version that is either more moving or more beautifully played.”
Gramophone Magazine, Recording of the Month, November 2011
“Ehnes plays it with astonishing command – even the most fearsome passages glisten, clear and immaculate. The first movement is a joyful experience, full of energy, laced through with sublime beauty. The second is wonderfully shaped, its phrasing intimate and vocal, while the faster central section is a weightless dance. The twists and turns of the finale are taken with grace and fluency, and the whole bubbles with infectious glee.”
The Strad, Recommended, November 2011
“Chandos could not have chosen a more ideal team for this project than James Ehnes, Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic.
Here they demonstrate an instinctive understanding for the different musical characteristics of each work... While encapsulating these distinctive emotional worlds, they nonetheless maintain a tight grip over the music’s structural direction. In the first movement of the Concerto No. 1, Ehnes’s supple phrasing of the opening melodic line, followed by the beautifully veiled orchestral accompaniment, sets up a great sense of expectancy. It is sustained throughout the movement as both soloist and conductor patiently build up the intensity to the final climax.”
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, October 2011
“This is a new Bartók disc that clearly deserves serious attention... Ehnes phrases the opening paragraph [of the Second Concerto] so beguilingly, and brings real character to a movement that can become unduly discursive in less imaginative hands...
Ehnes’s unaccompanied opening [of the First Concerto] is beautifully posed... the long lyrical lines of the first movement are wonderfully conveyed, and in the ensuing Allegro giocoso Ehnes is excitingly committed... This is one of the best recent recordings I’ve heard of this Viola Concerto, wholly alert to its moments of capriciousness and drama as well as its poetry.”
International Record Review, September 2011
“The opening folk-inflected melody is beautifully unfurled by Ehnes in a performance that, throughout, is ear-catchingly alert to the music’s range of tonal shading, its abrupt switches of pace and mood, its powerful bravura and its pungent lyricism... This whole disc, tracing three periods of Bartók’s career up to the final Viola Concerto gives a remarkable insight into Bartók’s compositional individuality in performances of captivating artistry.”
Daily Telegraph, five stars, September 2011
“His sinewy, lean tone is perfect for the mature Bartok’s stark, rebarbative harmonic language, yet he perceives the lyrical, folkloric vein that runs through the composer’s greatest masterpieces. Ehnes makes the attractive but uncharacteristic early concerto worth hearing, but he really warms to the late lyrical manner Bartok adopted for the Viola Concerto."
The Sunday Times, CD of the week, September 2011
“This persuasive and sweet-toned Canadian violinist could probably draw honey from the most waspish dissonance... Ehnes enjoys the lushness of its [First Violin Concerto] opening movement, his wistful portamenti evoking what Bartok described as "times that were happy even if only half-happiness"... Throughout, soloist and orchestra, under the baton of the marvellous Gianandrea Noseda, make clarity and precision their priority.
New Zealand Herald, September 2011
Houston Symphony Orchestra / Hans Graf / Brahms Violin Concerto
“Grammy-winning Canadian violin virtuoso James Ehnes and the Houston Symphony, under maestro Hans Graf, dazzled a packed house with a sterling rendition of Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto...
Ehnes again proved notable not only for technical proficiency, but also for the warmth and understanding of his playing. His decisive bowing and precise attack lent definition and drama to the work's more emphatic statements, and he flew through the trickiest effects with alacrity and ease. Yet the delicacy and restraint of his pianissimo moments proved just as impressive.
He was at his most expressive in the adagio, his graceful phrasing and soulful tone lending an elegiac quality. He gave the right zest and exuberance to the finale, whose main theme advances by leaps and bounds.
Called back by the audience for his fourth curtain call, Ehnes graciously obliged with an encore, zipping through the intricacies of Niccolo Paganini's Caprice No. 16 with dash and panache.”
Houston Chronicle, September 2011
Tivoli Festival Orchestra / Mario Venzago / Brahms Concerto
"Brahms' Violin Concerto had fire and soul with James Ehnes in the solo role.”
“Ehnes delivered a thoroughly musical and well-formed interpretation of the Brahms. With his brilliant tone and rubato, he was followed closely by the orchestra.”
“James Ehnes's tone is in a class of its own ... A few years ago Ehnes released a CD on which he played all the violins in the Fulton Collection and demonstrated the tonal differences between the instruments. In his encore, he showed how different just one instrument can sound, dark and delicate in the slow movement of one of Bach's solo sonatas compared with the strong and extrovert Brahms concerto."
kpn.dk, June 2011
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Marin Alsop
Bartok Concerto No. 1 / Beethoven Romance No. 1
"Canadian violinist James Ehnes is a star in on the ascendant, who with a balanced vibrato drew poetry from the intimate solo line. Technique and musicality were beautifully matched in the more lively final movement...”
“After the interval, Ehnes impressed with a stylish performance of Beethoven's Romance No. 1 for violin and orchestra."
Svenska Dagblad, May 2011
Mendelssohn Recording (Onyx)
Violin Concerto / Philharmonia Orchestra / Vladimir Ashkenazy
Octet / Seattle Chamber Music Society
“Bringing something new to established repertoire: surely that’s the ultimate test of any artist. If so, James Ehnes has done it again.
The first thing that hits you about Ehnes’s reading is the rhythmic propulsion of the concerto’s outer movements, revealing its glorious bone structure. In the hands of lesser musicians than Ehnes and Ashkenazy this could simply sound fast, yet there is so much compelling, beautifully observed phrasing that the effect is instead completely uplifting. It’s there again in the first movement of the Octet, and once more the sense is of a joyous, exhilarating ride rather than anything overly driven. Ehnes is a musician of consummate imagination (and technique!) coupled with a lack of ego that is completely winning. Just sample the way he and his Seattle Chamber Music colleagues judge the coda of the Octet’s Allegro moderato ma con fuoco. Con fuoco indeed.
Another aspect which is particularly winning is the creaminess of Ehnes’ lower register, so you really appreciate the lows (literally) as well as the highs in the Concerto. The Andante movements of both works are characterised by a caressing but never cloying approach. This is absolutely up there with the best of them.
As for the Octet, sample the Scherzo and see if you’re not won over. Of course, everyone has their own favourite in this much-recorded work, but I certainly don’t plan to live without this new version.”
Editor’s Choice, Gramophone, February 2011
“From his very first entry in the Concerto, James Ehnes draws us into Mendelssohn’s magic world of simplicity, melancholy and elegance. From here the virtuoso passages grow organically – they feel right, as though they could not conceivably be other than they are. Of course Mendelssohn must take credit for some of this. But Ehnes, eschewing flashiness or vulgarity and never, for instance, indulging in changes of bowing just to show what he can do, shows us the ‘restrained Romanticism’ which, according to André Gide, lies at the true heart of Classicism. Vladimir Ashkenazy allows him some liberty over tempo in the first movement , especially with the preparation and delivery of the second subject, but nothing that obstructs the flow of ideas. Together their draw a long line through this reflective section, leading with unassailable logic to Ehnes’ climactic high A, before we return to the energy of the opening. The Andante is, happily, not taken as an Adagio, and there is sparkle aplenty in the finale. Throughout, Ehnes’ sweet, unforced tone in a pure delight.
In the Octet, he leads a fine ensemble, fully alive to the mercurial with of the Scherzo and, at the other extreme, to the emotional depth of the Andante.”
Orchestral Choice, BBC Music Magazine, January 2011
“James Ehnes consolidates his position as one of the most sublime and stylish of musicians on this new recording of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, coupled with a performance of the Octet, in which Ehnes is joined by members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society.
Ehnes’s gorgeous, supple tone is combined with that instinct for a composer’s distinctive character that makes his interpretations so compelling. The finely spun lyrical lines of the central slow movement are played with unaffected but subtle beauty, complemented by the eloquence of phrasing in the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Ashkenazy conducts with delicacy and strength, the translucence of the orchestral sonority proving the ideal foil for Ehnes’s refined conception of the piece. His deft finger-work in the outer movements is spot on, but, as always, the technical aspects of articulating the concerto are put at the service of expressive feeling. Nothing is overdone; nor are the charm and spirit of the concerto understated. Ehnes’s innate sensibility draws him into the music’s milieu for a performance that is outstanding and unreservedly recommended.
To have Mendelssohn’s precociously gifted Octet of 1825 as a companion piece makes it even more attractive, especially when it is played with such taste and zest.”
CD of the week, five stars, Daily Telegraph, November 2010
“Brisk tempi mark out James Ehnes's reading of Mendelssohn's perennial concerto; there is nothing cloying or sentimental, even in the luscious slow movement where lesser violinists are tempted to wallow. Instead, he gives a beautifully sincere, unaffected performance, with Ashkenazy restricting the Philharmonia to the lightest of accompaniment. And Ehnes joins other north American string players in a fizzing account of the glorious Octet, written by the wildly precocious Mendelssohn at the age of 16 – without a trace of teenage angst.”
The Guardian, November 2010
“If I were to try to make a music-lover of someone, I think I would put this recording under his Christmas tree. The clarity, directness, and natural elegance of James Ehnes are so in line with the Mendelssohn concerto that it seems like a simple and obvious fit.
What is most admirable with this Canadian violinist is the way he has of ‘knowing’ everything without having to prove he ‘knows everything’. There is no ego in his playing. One finds the luminous playing of a Szeryng, but embodied by a ‘nice guy’ (a quality that one would never ascribe to the deceased Pole). The sublime 2nd movement, Andante, flows seamlessly, and the Finale, whose lightness is emphasized by several skillful applications of the bow.
And if I don’t exchange my copy of the Octet, a Praga recording by the Prazak and Kocian Quartets, I would certainly not deny this wonderful CD a 10/10. Ehnes and his friends, among them the Concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the viola solo of the New York Philharmonic, present a vision that is very ‘ensemble with principal violin’, a perspective one rarely finds. Among the other ‘originalities’, the pale colour of the Andante and the fury of the Presto, that cast a shade over the more famous Scherzo, played with a lightness that recalls A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Octet is surprising, certainly, but stimulating with its inspired outlook and new perspective.”
ClassicsTodayFrance.com, November 2010
London Symphony Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda / Bartok Concerto No.2
“James Ehnes, a powerful, eloquent and self-controlled player, might have been born to play Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto. In his performance with the London Symphony Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda all the elements of the composer’s language were present, the warmth and yearning of the extended melodies, the aggression, the folk-like naivety, the sheer fluency of it all. Over all, Ehnes had the élan to carry off the virtuosity with a flourish, and often to absorb the technical demands into playing of disarming simplicity. More than this, the performance was a great partnership between soloist and orchestra, with Ehnes blending neatly among wind and brass, passing phrases to and fro in discursive, collegiate fashion, in places dominating and in others almost insouciant. It was a performance of beauty, energy and poetry.”
The Strad, January 2011
“a powerfully conceived and highly cohesive interpretation...Ehnes is a virtuoso of the first rank."
ClassicalSource.com, October 2010
BBC Scottish Symphony at the Vienna Konzerthaus / Donald Runnicles / Brahms Concerto
"The celebrated Konzerthaus debut of violinist James Ehnes...one will not soon experience a more organic interaction of soloist and orchestra"
Die Presse, October 2010
BBC Philharmonic / Gianandrea Noseda / Bartok Concerto No.1
"James Ehnes delivered Bartok's First Violin Concerto with an unflappable authority"
Daily Telegraph, November 2010
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Vasily Petrenko / Mendelssohn Concerto
“The Canadian delivered a lustrous, lyrical performance, eking the sweetest of tones from his 300-year-old Stradivarius which he maintained throughout even the briskest of passages"
Liverpool Echo, November 2010
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons / Elgar Concerto
“Rapport between Nelsons, the orchestra and soloist James Ehnes was miraculous, Ehnes singing a seamless song of wistful regret, his accompanists with him every step of this marathon way"
Birmingham Post, November 2010
BBC Proms: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda / Bruch Concerto No.1
“The hall was packed on 13 August for another showstopper – Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, played by James Ehnes with Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic. Ehnes’s singing tone and dynamic approach lent the work an air of freshness, and the way he introduced little touches of portamento between repeated notes was delicious. With the BBC Philharmonic on sweeping form, the Adagio was sumptuously phrased and glowing, and the finale was sparkling and beautiful, Ehnes tripping delicately through its dancing spiccato melodies, a showman at the top of his game.”
The Strad, October 2010
National Arts Centre Orchestra, Ottawa / Mark Wigglesworth / Prokofiev Concerto No.2
“[James Ehnes] is the real deal. …Prokofiev’s Second is possibly the hardest concerto in the standard repertoire. It’s also possible Ehnes played it as well as it has ever been played. His rendition had everything from the heart-stopping beauty of the soaring melodies in the second movement to the most dazzling brilliance and colour, all the while expressing the touches of black humour that occur so frequently in the score.”
Ottawa Citizen, May 2010
Dallas Symphony Orchestra / Claus Peter Flor / Bruch Scottish Fantasy
“In Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy one could only wonder if there's a finer violinist alive than James Ehnes. Here were luminous tone and impeccable technique, but also a generosity of expression that matched Flor's. Both musicians daringly stretched phrases here and there, but always to the most musical ends.”
Dallas Morning News, April 2010
City Halls Glasgow, Recital with Andrew Armstrong
“They are a dynamic duo, but not in a showy sense – the one prevailing feature of Ehnes's performances of Schumann, Bach and Beethoven, was his tendency to hold back on extravagant pyrotechnics, and let the music flow with natural expression and stunning, immaculate precision.
That was amply evident in Ehnes's solo performance of Bach's unaccompanied Partita in E, which was compelling for its combination of intellectual simplicity and magisterial grace, as well as a perfect showcase for his magnificent Stradivarius violin, its molten clarity ringing in perfect sympathy with the warm, crystalline City Halls acoustics.
Equally gripping, though, was the innate empathy between both musicians that reaped magical results from Schumann's Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor and Beethoven's Kreuzer Sonata.
The introvert sensibilities of the Schumann were beautifully captured in a performance characterised by muted gestures and impassioned restraint. Ehnes and Armstrong judged its expressive nuances to a T, colouring even the harnessed exuberance of the finale with alluring reservation.
It was as if the big guns were being held back for the Beethoven, the difficult opening bars of which – a truculent, almost belligerent warm-up act for the breezy presto – were remarkable in their attention-grabbing theatricality. The central variations emerged as a deliciously fluid discourse, before a finale that reached its conclusion with invigorating intent.
Thankfully, it didn't take much to coax two encores out of the musicians – Kreisler's gymnastic Tambourin Chinois and his tender, atmospheric arrangement of Cyril Scott's Lotus Land. A supreme recital, which can be heard again on BBC Radio 3 this Thursday.”
The Scotsman*****, March 2010
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Donald Runnicles / Britten Violin Concerto
“The intense solo line wears its colours on its sleeve and violinist James Ehnes was more than able to meet its many demands. Runnicles kept a tight rein over the metrically driven opening movement, leaving Ehnes to explore the romance in the music. Perhaps most impressive of all, however, was Ehnes's cadenza towards the end of the frantic Vivace. Mastery of Britten's significant physical and technical demands is certainly not easy, but to take this material and craft it to reflect the painful lyricism that lies at its core demonstrated a complete and true understanding of the work.”
The Scotsman, March 2010
Feature on Barber Violin Concerto recording in The Strad
“It is James Ehnes … who provides the most direct challenge to Perlman in a recent release. With a warm, forward statement of the opening tune, and pointed, light animandos that wrap up with a flourish, Ehnes is always ingratiating … In the finale, though every note seems equal in value and shading, this moto perpetuo generates a momentum that threatens to run out of the room. This is a truly distinguished recording, right beside the Perlman/Ozawa version at the top of the list .”
The Strad, March 2010
Paganini Caprices recording (Onyx)
“When we now speak of the world’s finest young fiddlers we must surely add the name of this visionary Canadian.
Throughout Ehnes’s playing glows. You get the feeling every time he puts bow to string that something special will, quite naturally, just happen.”
Editor’s Choice and CD of the month, Gramophone, January 2010
“[Ehnes] confirms the predictions of Erick Friedman, eminent student of Heifetz: 'there is only one like him born every hundred years'."
Awarded the Diapason d’Or, Diapason, January 2010
“James Ehnes has produced a superb version that nudges all others out of the limelight […]
These studies in virtuosity might harbour every technical trick known to man – and maybe some known only to the Devil – but Ehnes has a rare sensibility to make music out of them.
This is a wondrous set that shows Paganini end Ehnes as masters both of technique and expression.”
CD of the week, The Telegraph, October 2009
“Ehnes has returned to these coruscating ‘finger-breakers’ … playing them with the same glowing tonal finesse as before, but with a new lyrical intensity that gives each piece its own special sense of musical identity. […] Beguilingly player and expertly engineered, this deserves a place on anyone’s shortlist of the Caprices.”
BBC Music Magazine, December 2009
“James Ehnes, whose artistry suggests that in Paganini’s age he would have enjoyed similar stature to the great man, succeeds impressively in being more than merely thrilling. He realises that, extravagant though some of the music’s gestures are, this is not simply a high-wire act. […] It’s playing of phenomenal control, allied to musicianship of the highest order.”
The Times, October 2009
“Ehnes gives a performance that balances bel canto refinement with an almost Beethovenian heroism. Technically, this is faultless. The spiccato is crisp, the octaves dazzling. Even more impressive is the melodic sweetness.”
The Independent, October 2009
“All I can say is that this CD contains some of the most jaw-droppingly breath-taking violinistic fireworks you are ever likely to hear. […] one of Ehnes’ greatest triumphs is that he is able to focus on the musical impetus behind the notes because the technical hurdles that face the rest of us barely seem to bother him. In doing so he raises their musical stature greatly. […] for sustained listening and a greater sense of the music as an organic whole I find Ehnes to be without equal.
A marvelous, amazing, stunning, spectacular, fabulous, awe-inspiring, fabulous - only half-way through the Microsoft office thesaurus but I’ll leave out cool and groovy - piece of music-making.”
Recording of the Month, CD Review, November 2009
“James Ehnes shapes three full volumes of Paganini's Caprices into gorgeous musical sculptures that will give you goosebumps. Ehnes jumps the huge technical hurdles as if they were a stroll on the beach. There is power in his bow, but also remarkable shading; this is not just music to knock your socks off – it has a full, multi-coloured range of moods. Wow.”
4 stars (out of 4), Toronto Star, November 2009
Mozarteum, Salzburg Festival / Paganini Caprices
"James Ehnes played 12 of the 24 Caprices, including the popular "La Chasse" and the famous "Themes and Variations" on the final A minor poem, which many composers have taken up and re-worked. ... James Ehnes played with soft-as-butter phrasing, and a rich and subtle tone, bringing to life and elevating the whole compendium of violin techniques from stroking and bowing to plucking and striking the strings. The performance was a masterclass in how to transform virtuosic, circus acrobatics into sensitive 'scenes' for the violin, each one telling its own little story."
Salzburger Nachrichten, August 2009
Wigmore Hall, BBC Lunchtime Recital with Andrew Armstrong
“The Ehnes package, revealed immediately in the melodious opening andante of the Leclair, consists of palpable joy in the instrument, intonation so sweet in its perfection that you feel it physically, a strong, relaxed bow arm which wet-moulds every phrase - and a total lack of distracting ego-projection.
Ehnes and Armstrong smile a lot, though: their encore, Ravel's Berceuse, dedicated to Fauré, was well into overtime - “so we're playing it just for ourselves”, Ehnes joked.
Its gentle lullaby went straight to the heart of their audience, though - just as Ehnes and Armstrong had pinned them to their seats a moment or two earlier in their performance of Ravel's Tzigane. Here, every colour, resonance and grain of the wood of the violin rang out in overtone, undertone and harmonic. And the piano, reincarnated as cimbalom, flexed the muscle of the Hungarian gypsy language into which both musicians dug deep.
The centrepiece was Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No 2. It slinked into being, only to reveal a flinty brilliance in the scherzo and in Ehnes's powerfully structured finale.”
The Times, March 2009
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
“I have never heard such an accurate reading of the score… But what about the spirit, the passion and the sheer romance of the piece? Quite simply, the performance was saturated with them, but delivered without hyperbole, bombast or flash.”
The Herald, March 2009
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kiril Karabits / Beethoven Concerto
“As if this were not enough for one evening, the exceptional violinist James Ehnes gave a performance of the Beethoven concerto that was transfixing in its eloquence, in perfect tandem with the qualities of refinement and depth that are components of the Bournemouth orchestra's collective personality. Serenity and sinew, radiance and rhythmic point were searchingly deployed in Ehnes's profoundly expressive interpretation, the tumultuous reception of which was rewarded with an encore of the gigue from Bach's Partita No 2.”
Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph, November 2008
“…all ears were on James Ehnes. Is there a creamier, more ravishing violin timbre in the world today than that from Ehnes's Strad? Add immaculate tuning, serene lyricism and an understated but unfaltering musicality, and its clear why the young Canadian is fast becoming the connoisseur's fiddler-of-choice.”
Richard Morrison, The Times, November 2008
New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Bramwell Tovey / Tchaikovsky Concerto
“James Ehnes demonstrated his mastery over his instrument and the music. Delivering technical perfection and playing with great energy and musicality, he had the audience on its feet cheering after the performance.”
The Strad, June 2008
Philharmonia Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis / Elgar Violin Concerto recording
“Take almost any passage at random from the Violin Concerto in this recording and it’s hard not to be impressed. James Ehnes has a lovely ripe vibrato and an expressive openness that touches the heart from his first entry. Elgar spoke of having written out his soul in this work, and whether Ehnes knows that remark or not, that’s certainly the effect he conveys.”
BBC Music Magazine, January 2008
“Not only is Ehnes's technical address impeccable and intonation miraculously true, his contribution is remarkable for its intrepid emotional scope, athletic agility and (perhaps above all) jaw-dropping delicacy (nowhere more heart-tuggingly potent than in the finale's accompanied cadenza…”
Gramophone - Editor's Choice, January 2008
“…this performance of the concerto is a landmark recording from a consummate artist whose instincts and sensibility mark him out as one of the finest musicians in today's firmament."
CD of the Week, The Daily Telegraph, January 2008
“Ehnes plays Elgar's Violin Concerto with an alchemic mix of passionate intensity and clear-headed intelligence, lavishing upon this spacious, hyper-romantic work a sound of staggeringly rich, luscious beauty, from first note to last. There's a tremendous impetus to the first movement, while the slow movement has a tenderness and freedom that surely come straight from the heart. Ehnes is both technically and musically in total command."
The Sunday Times, 28 October 2007
“The Canadian violinist James Ehnes plays this concerto with superb technical accomplishment, and he is equally impressive in the more extrovert episodes as in the intimate and amorous musing. With Sir Andrew Davis a sensitive collaborator and the Philharmonia responding wholeheartedly, this is a distinguished contribution to the Elgar discography."
The Sunday Telegraph, 2 December 2007
Philharmonia Orchestra / Andrew Davis / Elgar Concerto
"Ehnes sustained an unflagging intensity into the testing finale, even into its expansive cadenza: a remarkable feat in the concerto that even Kreisler claimed might have been the greatest test of a violinist's endurance. No doubt about it, this was a distinguished, honest, stirring, world-class presentation, and as such a meaningful tribute to Elgar."
The Strad, August 2007
Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Recital
"Mercifully free of affectation or vanity, yet blessed with as stunning a technique and as intriguing a musical personality as any violinist on the circuit, James Ehnes seems set to become one of classical music's biggest names."
The Times, February 2007
Violin concertos by Korngold, Barber and Walton / Onyx Classics
"James Ehnes gives superb performances... His playing has always been impressive on disc, but here he excels himself in expressive range as well as the tonal beauty, with expressive rubato perfectly controlled... An outstanding disc in every way."
Gramophone, February 2007
Cleveland Orchestra / Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
"…let's start with Ehnes, a Canadian violinist whose star is rising quickly. For his debut Saturday with the orchestra, he played that beloved Tchaikovsky warhorse, the Violin Concerto, as if it were the newest piece on the block. He phrased with utmost expressive flexibility, drawing the romance or drama out of phrases, and employed his buttery tone - thanks in part to a 1715 Stradivarius - to rapturous effect.
Ehnes also happens to possess one of the most wizardly bow arms in the business. In passages requiring velocity, especially in the finale, he passed across the strings at a speed that sounded dangerous, but never obscured notes. Ehnes treated Tchaikovsky as a fine balancing act between eloquent poetry and bold athleticism."
Cleveland Times , July 2006
Mozart complete music for violin and orchestra / CBC Records
"You know you're in for a treat with sparkling tempi, buoyant rhythms throughout and a soloist whose unerring expressive and technical ability puts a spring in your step. In addition to the concertos are the Adagio and two Rondos making this release a clear first choice in the field."
Classic FM, May 2006
J.S. Bach Sonatas / Analekta
"The performances abound with beauty, intelligence, and expressivity. ... This cycle, along with the Sonatas and Partitas, ensures James Ehnes' standing as one of the great Bach violinists of our time, or any time for that matter."
Classics Today , April 2006
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop / Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1
"This was the performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto to take away as the ultimate souvenir of the composer's centenary year. It is rare to find an interpretation in which the music's impact is at once so shattering and so exhilarating, so firmly in control yet so generous in expression, so organic in conception yet so rich in its detailed exploration of the score. Extraordinary forces were at work here, and they were harnessed with potent artistic resolve."
The Telegraph, March 2006
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop / Shostakovich's first violin concerto
"Force and poetry. More than most executants, Ehnes found a way to balance these key ingredients, never sacrificing beauty of tone for the excitement of fist fights between bow and strings, yet still playing with fervour. His dark, soulful colouring cast its magic right from the opening"
The Times, March 2006
"This was the performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto to take away as the ultimate souvenir of the composer's centenary year. It is rare to find an interpretation in which the music's impact is at once so shattering and so exhilarating, so firmly in control yet so generous in expression, so organic in conception yet so rich in its detailed exploration of the score. Extraordinary forces were at work here, and they were harnessed with potent artistic resolve."
The Telegraph, March 2006
"One of the most gifted and sincerely expressive artists to have emerged in recent times."
Daily Telegraph, March 2006
Scottish Chamber Orchestra /Bruch's Violin Concerto
"…the spotlight was on James Ehnes, the red-hot Canadian violinist. His technique is blistering, giving an utter conviction to whatever he plays - including Friday's supersonic Paganini encore."
The Scotsman, November 2005
London Symphony Orchestra / Elgar Violin Concerto
“…the way [Ehnes] touched the very soul of the Elgar concerto made for a performance that surpassed the exceptional and entered the realms of the truly inspirational.”
The Daily Telegraph, May 2005
Philharmonia Orchestra / Mozart Violin Concerto No.5
“Fleet orchestral playing was matched by the solo work of the Canadian violinist James Ehnes, who placed musical truth before virtuosic display…Ehnes was really notable for spinning long, finely phrased lines that caught the essence of the piece.”
The Times, April 2005
Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Barber Violin Concerto
“Ehnes’ performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto on Friday was one of the best I’ve ever heard. It fused every aspect of Barber’s warmly energetic writing into a performance bursting with bright-eyed optimism and technical brilliance. Ehnes was never going be let off without an encore...”
The Scotsman, March 2005
New York Philharmonic’s Ives Festival/Lou Harrison Suite for Violin and American Gamelan
“Ehnes’s performance was nothing short of brilliant. His tone at the opening sang with the dark, suggestive voice of a gypsy contralto…In each subsequent movement he conjured up a new cast of characters, leaving me dizzy with delight”
The Strad, August 2004
Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
"At 28, Ehnes seems to get better every year: technically brilliant, artistically assured. His tone is glorious — a rounded and burnished sound on the Marsick Stradivarius, a 1715 instrument on extended loan from the collection of David Fulton. … Ehnes' sound is lovely even in the upper reaches of the instrument, where violins don't always sound so rich and full. He knows how to make the violin sing, not simply negotiate the notes (though that can be hard enough in the Mendelssohn Concerto). He's an expressive player; his performance was deeply thoughtful — so clean you're never conscious of the concerto's challenges."
Seattle Times, 6 June 2004
Records Dvorák, Smetana and Janácek on Analekta
"With this latest recording, James Ehnes, proves that he possesses everything to become one of the greatest violinists of the twenty-first century."
Classica, April 2004
"Ehnes is a world class violinist and he proves it once again with intense, characterful and technically flawless renditions of these Czech gems."
Classics Today, April 2004
“…There is colour, rhythmic élan, a feeling of pure joy. Yet the performances also attest to Ehnes’ total finesse, his lyrical warmth and tenderness in the Sonatina’s slow movement and the first of the Smetana pieces, his passion and vigour in the second of them. The interpretation of the Janacek sonata is of remarkable depth and intensity…"
Daily Telegraph, March 2004
Ulster Orchestra & Thierry Fischer / Beethoven Violin Concerto
“…The young Canadian violinist James Ehnes brought a full, golden tone to the concerto. His playing had the traditional warmth of feeling and also the traditional Kreisler cadenzas, the sparkling third movement cadenza in particular standing out…”
The Irish Times, 4 March 2004
Recital for BBC Radio Three with Eduard Laurel / Beethoven Sonatas Nos. 4 & 7
“…James Ehnes was fully on top of the symphonic possibilities here and produced a gritty and integrated performance, his determined approach to tempi maintaining a momentum that powerd the vehicle forward…”
The Belfast Telegraph, 1 March 2004
San Francisco Symphony & David Robertson / Weill Violin Concerto
“…a dynamite debut by soloist James Ehnes … pleasure in spades … His playing boasts a quiet elegance, seemingly without effort or turmoil, that brought out the lyricism underscoring even Weill's most tartly pointed writing. His string tone is warm and full-voiced, his rhythmic control deceptively fluid. His return visit is something to look forward to…”
San Francisco Chronicle, 8 November 2003
Royal Scottish National Orchestra & Stéphane Denève / Prokofiev First Violin Concerto
“…Juilliard graduate James Ehnes, playing a 1715 Stradivarius, produced shifts in tone and colour in the Prokofiev that demonstrated phenomenal technique combined with an intense, controlled sensibility…”
The Scotsman, 1 November 2003
“…sweetly expressive yet powerful in the lyrical outer movements, with impressive, sparkling technical accuracy in the angular central scherzo…”
Glasgow Herald, 3 November 2003
New York Philharmonic & Roberto Minczuk / Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
“Mr. Ehnes, a 27-year-old Canadian, gave an exciting reading of the Tchaikovsky, playing the slower sections with a smooth and warm honeyed tone and the brisker ones with ample quantities of firepower. The first movement in particular was notable for the sense of repose and spacious lyricism that Mr. Ehnes frequently carved out amid the lightning runs. “
New York Times, 9 July 2003
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra & Gianandrea Noseda / Prokofiev 1st Concerto
"The young Canadian violinist James Ehnes brought phenomenal clarity to Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto, moving surefootedly even in passages where the starriest virtuosos slip and slide, yet was also sensitive to the fairy tale atmosphere in which the whole unfolds."
The Daily Telegraph, February 2003
"The young Canadian violinist James Ehnes played with spellbinding intensity, shimmering magically to life with his opening solo, then digging into the scherzo's rough middle section with a relish that was both earthy and jaw-droppingly virtuosic. With Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic on peak form, it was a radiant performance..."
The Guardian, 3 February 2003
"What a nonchalant virtuoso he is. Here was no grandstanding: just a beautiful, suitably bittersweet tone, and long-breathed phrases."
The Times, 3 February 2003
"In a beautifully restrained reading of the First Violin Concerto, James Ehnes seemed to touch the very heart of the music. His hypnotic first entry, calculated to spin effortlessly on, set the tone for a performance high on expressive detail and on intimate dialogue between soloist and orchestra."
The Independent, 12 February 2003
Orchestre Symphonique de Montral & Mario Bernardi / Bruch Second Concerto and Scottish Fantasy / CBC 5222
“This beguiling disc features the exceptional young Canadian violinist James Ehnes in an unusual pairing of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and Second Violin Concerto. ... Ehnes's performance is powerfully persuasive. ... Ehnes here confirms his stature as an artist of refined sensibility, with a musicianship to match his technical control and tonal allure. ... Ehnes, as always, deploys his virtuosity to musical ends that are governed by intelligence and a real feel for the music's style. ... and brings to the Scottish Fantasy a Romantic spirit and freshness of outlook that give his playing such a winning profile.”
The Daily Telegraph, March 2003
"Ehnes est fidèle à sa réputation avec un son irradiant, raffiné, une manière d'enchainer les traits et les phrases sans heurt, exactement comme Giulini interprétant Mozart. Ce chant superbe trouve son plein aboutissemant dans les deux premiers mouvements du 2e Concerto, où Ehnes "explose" toute concurrence (Heifetz, Perlman par deux fois, Accardo, Rosand...)."
Répertoire, January 2003
Bach Sonatas and Partitas / Analekta FL 2 3147-8
"The young Canadian violinist James Ehnes is inspiring in Bach's six solo sonatas and partitas, refined, rhythmically acute and probing right to the music's spiritual core."
Sunday Telegraph; 2002 A Year in Sound, December 2002
Kreisler Recital / Analekta FL 2 3159
"Tout chez James Ehnes respire la force tranquille des violonistes les plus audacieux qui ont su dépasser toute considération technicisante pour se consacrer uniquement à l'expressivité la plus pure. La limpidité du jeu, la souplesse d'un archet qui s'offre généreusement à la corde avec toute l'agilité requise, l'intensité de la note servie avec un amour de son le plus juste possible, suscitent un bonheur rare. Et qui plus est, James Ehnes s'impose comme un immense violoniste qui a su marquer son territoire loin de toute référence ou de toute filiation préétablie. Le génie est à ce prix."
Répertoire, Le Disque du Mois, November 2002
"...the Canadian is top-of-the-range luxury goods: the sound he produces is ravishing, the intonation faultless, the articulation impeccable, all of which are employed with that one essential ingredient for Kreisler: charm. ... For my money, the most satisfying Kreisler programme and modern performance currently available - and that includes those by Bell, Mintz and Kennedy."
BBC Music Magazine, January 2003
BBC National Orchestra of Wales & Richard Hickox at the BBC Proms / Brahms Concerto
"It is the thought that lies behind his interpretations, coupled with a spontaneous freshness, that marks him out as one of the most gifted and sincerely expressive artists to have emerged in recent times. The Brahms exhibited this comprehensively… Altogether remarkable."
The Daily Telegraph , September 2002
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DSO Berlin / Vladimir Ashkenazy / Elgar Violinkonzert
„Jubel herrscht am Ende des 50-minütigen Stückes, weil dem kanadischen Solisten James Ehnes alles zur Verfügung steht: sorgsame Phrasierung, Farben, Technik, Stradivari... Ehnes versteht sich auf Introvertiertheit wie Brillanz.“
Der Tagesspiegel, Februar 2014
„James Ehnes spielt das alles nicht nur blitzsauber bis in die manchmal ganz plötzlich aufflammenden Gesten hinein, sondern vor allem mit einem intensiven Erzählton, der alle Qualitäten einer unverwechselbaren, fast physische Präsenz ausstrahlenden Stimme besitzt und die ganze Zeit hindurch zu fesseln vermag. Mächtig ist dieser Ton, herb und etwas nasal, sehr belastbar auf den mittleren Saiten, am ausdrucksvollsten aber in dem nie beengt wirkenden Spiel in den hohen Lagen auf der G-Saite, das weite Strecken dieses Stückes prägt.“
Berliner Zeitung, Februar 2014
MDR Sinfonieorchester / Hugh Wolff / Britten Violinkonzert
„James Ehnes ist mit seinem Solopart aus süßen Kantilenen und rhythmisch dominierten Themen immer präsent und meistert die technischen Herausforderungen souverän, besonders die aufregende Kadenz. Dafür gibt es viel Applaus, für den sich Ehnes mit einer Zugabe von Bach bedankt.“
Leipziger Volkszeitung, Oktober 2013
Britten und Shostakowitsch Aufnamhe (Onyx)
Britten Violinkonzert op.15 und Shostakowitsch Violinkonzert Nr.1 op.77 / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits„Es ist ein Rätsel, warum Ehnes bei uns nicht viel bekannter ist. Vor den Zimmermanns, Tetzlaffs und Kavakossen dieser Welt muss er sich keineswegs verstecken. Das beweist auch seine neue CD.
Am Beginn des ersten Schostakowitsch-Konzerts färbt Ehnes seinen Ton warm und fast Cello-artig. Seine ausdifferenzierte Farbpalette ist wirklich beeindruckend und reicht bis hin zu schneidend scharf - in blitzsauberen Doppelgriffen, die jede Dissonanz physisch fühlbar werden lassen.
Die Gefahr bei dem Stück sei, sich nur auf die unmittelbaren starken Effekte zu stützen, sagt Ehnes. Wenn man im ersten und dritten Satz nur ein trauriges Gesicht mache, das Scherzo einfach aufregend und abgehackt und den letzten Satz so schnell wie möglich spiele, bekomme man zwar stehende Ovationen - aber das sei nicht gut genug. Man bleibe allenfalls an der Oberfläche.
Bei Ehnes ist das keine Gefahr. Das Scherzo beginnt er überraschend kontrolliert und gehalten - umso explosiver wirkt der Schluss: eine perfekte Dramaturgie.
Die große Kadenz leitet er in der Passacaglia ein wie ein Gebet; wir sind im Innersten dieser Gefühlswelt, die nach der Kadenz in den wilden Strudel des Finales mündet.
Das Konzert von Britten zeigt die technische Virtuosität von Ehnes, es ist extrem anspruchsvoll. Aber auch hier ist die Dramaturgie entscheidend. Allzu leicht wirkt das Stück gehaltlos und unproportioniert. Schon die lang ausgesponnene Eröffnungsphase legt Ehnes klug an, schwebend umschreibt sie einen offenen Raum.
Beim Britten-Konzert müsse man als Solist eine ganz klare Vorstellung haben, wie alles ineinander greift, auch die Orchesterstimmen, so Ehnes. Es sei sehr dicht komponiert, man brauche dafür viel Zeit. Dem Geiger gelingt es, die Spannung bis zum Ende der finalen Passacaglia zu halten.
Brittens Violinkonzerte lasse am Ende ein Fragezeichen zurück, glaubt Ehnes, es sei mehrdeutig. Selbst beim letzten Akkord könne man nicht genau sagen, ob das nun Dur oder Moll sei. Das sei ein Markenzeichen von Britten. Seine Musik bleibe im Kopf, man beschäftige sich weiter damit, wenn sie verklungen sei.
Am Ende des Britten-Konzerts mag ein Fragezeichen bleiben - diese CD aber hinterlässt ein Ausrufezeichen. James Ehnes sollte auch hier in Deutschland eine wichtigere Rolle spielen!“
NDR Kultur, Juni 2013
Bartók Aufnahme (Chandos)
Violinsonaten Nr.1 & 2, Rhapsodien Nr.1 & 2, Andante in A-Dur / Andrew Armstrong
„Die Schwierigkeit, den inzwischen doch recht häufig eingespielten Werken eine persönliche Note abzuringen, meistern der Geiger und sein Klavierpartner Andrew Armstrong mit Bravour.... Der Geiger spart nicht mit sinnlichem Vibrato, wahrt aber dennoch auch eine gewisse Distanz zum allzu gefälligen und verharmlosenden spätromantischen Duktus, den man in anderen Aufnahmen hören kann. Gezielt werden farbliche Nuancierungen eingesetzt, was dazu beiträgt, die unterschiedlichen Einflüsse auf Bartóks Musik aufzudecken. Wie sehr Ehnes aber auch die Feinheiten des Romantizismus beherrscht, zeigt er schließlich bei seiner Wiedergabe von Bartóks frühem 'Andante' A-Dur (BB 26b, 1902), in dem noch ganz andere Klangwelten aufscheinen.“
Klassik.com, Mai 2012
Bartók Aufnahme (Chandos)
Violinkonzerte Nr. 1 & 2, Violakonzert / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda
„James Ehnes spielt...beide Violinkonzerte und das Violakonzert Béla Bartóks und überzeugt dabei auf ganzer Linie... Die sorgfältige Modellierung von Phrasen, die oftmals gegensätzliche Ausdruckswerte einbezieht, die Unterstützung des Vortrags durch leichte Portamenti – Elemente, die er auch in den übrigen Werken zum Wohl der Musik einzusetzen weiß – offenbaren rasch die außerordentliche Qualität seiner Bartók-Wiedergabe.“
Klassik.com, November 2011
Hamburger Philharmoniker / Marc Piollet / Walton Violinkonzert
“exzellenter Geiger mit absolut makelloser Technik und klangschönem, von keinerlei Kratzern oder Ruppigkeiten getrübten Ton. Dazu kam sein ganz und gar unprätentiöses Auftreten”
Hamburger Abendblatt, November 2011
BBC Symphony Orchestra / Donald Runnicles / Brahms Violinkonzert (Konzerthaus Wien)
“…das Violinkonzert von Johannes Brahms, dessen Interpretation durch Ehnes in Klang, Spieltechnik und Ausdruck keine Wünsche offenließ.”
Wiener Zeitung, Oktober 2010
„...umjubeltes Konzerthaus-Debüt des Geigers James Ehnes - ein organischeres Ineinandergreifen von Solist und Orchester wird man so schnell nicht erleben.“
Die Presse, Oktober 2010
Salzburger Festspiele / Paganini Capricen
“James Ehnes spielte zwölf der 24 Charakterstücke, darunter die populäre „La Chasse“ und das berühmte „Tema con variazioni“ des letzten, von vielen Komponisten verarbeitend aufgegriffenen a-Moll-Poems. James Ehnes tat es – wie Marc-André Hamelin auf seine Art – mit butterweicher Phrasierung und substanzreich-subtiler Klanglichkeit, die das Kompendium der Streich-, Zupf-, Bogen- und Schlagtechnik für Geige zu lebendiger Musik zu veredeln vermochte. Auch das wurde somit ein Lehrstück, wie man virtuos-zirzensische Akrobatik in feinfühlige Geigen-„Szenen“ überführen kann, die Nummer für Nummer kleine Geschichten erzählen.“
Salzburger Nachrichten, August 2009
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