James Ehnes, now 36, shares a surprising birthplace with Malcolm Lowe, concertmaster of the Boston Symphony - both were born in Manitoba. This may not be as surprising as if Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninov came from North Dakota, but I'm impressed. Ehnes is a graceful, very agreeable violinist who has benefited, so far as I can tell, from Commonwealth pride; he is traversing the standard concerto repertoire in a series of releases that more famous virtuosos on the international circuit would envy, and each has been greeted by the Gramophone with unstinting praise. I just can't figure out why.
For any non-Russian violinist to make headway in their career is a feat right now, but Ehnes isn't charismatic or powerful; he's a good musician with accomplished technique yet very little fire. Halfway through the first movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto, where everything unfolds according to plan, my attention wasn't wandering, which is a good sign, and this CD certainly has excellent sound, which brings forward Ehnes's smooth, sweet tone. Ashkenazy holds up his end as conductor; I don't think anyone ever accomplishes much with the accompaniment beyond Fritz Reiner in the blazing account by Heifetz on RCA Living Stereo.
The slow movement finds ehnes dropping a bit, and the finale, which comes off the best, arouses some intensity form him. If you want this music to flow and sing, Ehnes would be a good choice. But there's a legacy of virtuosic thrills from Oistreakh, Heifetz. Vengerov, and many other luminaries that this recording cannot rival. As for the fillers, it's nice to bundle Tchaikovsky's collected works for violin and orchestra, but noting rises to the level of the concerto. The best feature about these occasional pieces is the composer's unquenchable melodic gift. I think that Ehnes himself is at is best singing a tender lyrical line.