This is the second volume in a series devoted to the works for strings by Béla Bartók, with James Ehnes the featured soloist. Earlier this year, Ehnes recorded the Violin and Viola Concertos (CHAN 10690), which was made Disc of the Month in Gramophone magazine. On this new recording, he turns to the Violin Sonatas and Rhapsodies, complemented by the earliest surviving work by Bartók for violin and piano, an Andante. He is accompanied by the pianist Andrew Armstrong. Dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Adila dArányi, the sonatas for violin and piano were composed in 1921 22, around the same time as the highly successful ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin. Of the two works, the Sonata in C sharp minor is the more traditional in terms of its structure, and characterised by a mood that is sometimes exhilarated, sometimes turbulent but always virtuosic. The finale builds from a series of increasingly wild dances, folk-like in style but entirely expressionistic. In the Sonata in C major, Bartók removes himself from classical form and traditional tonal practice, calling on the violinist to distance himself from the romantic manner of playing. At several points, for example, the violin is played without vibrato, producing an ethereally cool and distant sound. The improvisatory character is strong throughout, as the work repeatedly alternates between the quiet and thoughtful, and the stormy and strident. The ending, in contrast to the earlier sonata, is understated, emotional, and expressive. Bartóks two rhapsodies for piano and violin, dedicated respectively to Joseph Szigeti and Zoltán Székely, are steeped in the tradition of Hungarian folk music. Exuberant and infectious, the works are heavily inspired by the csárdás, the national dance of Hungary, and display the traditional pairing of lassú (slow) and friss (lively) movements.
James Ehnes brings plenty of spice, swagger and spirited folk-like energy to Bartok's two rhapsodies, ending the first of them with a return to the slow music of the start but recording on a separate track Bartok's more agitated alternative final bars. Partnered with piquancy and vitality by Andrew Armstrong, Ehnes is thoroughly in his element here, as he is in the two sonatas, both musicians blending subtlety of nuance with evocative colour and animated passion. ***** --Daily Telegraph,04/02/12
Ehnes and Armstrong provide an exceedingly generous programme, expertly engineered, well planned, beautifully executed. --Gramophone,Mar'12
Gideon Kremer's incendiary accounts of these works are an interpretive benchmark, while those by Isabelle Faust launched her career in impressive fashion, yet Ehnes is no less probing and benefits from undoubtedly the best recorded balance between violin and piano. A second volume...is keenly awaited. --IRR,Feb'12
Performances of outstanding musical insight and technical brilliance. Performance***** Recording***** --BBC Music Magazine,Mar'12
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 in the G string or dashing off handfuls of double-stops it's thrilling stuff. --The Strad, Apr'12