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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rising Violin Star Plays Three 20th-Century Romantic Violin Concerti Gorgeously, 20 Dec. 2006
By 
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
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This disc featuring Manitoba-born violinist James Ehnes (pronounced 'Ennis') confirms for me my suspicion that he is one of the best of the younger generation of violin soloists on the concert circuit. I had heard and greatly admired his earlier recordings of Bach's Unaccompanied Violin Partitas and of Mozart's five Violin Concerti, but this is the first I've heard him play anything from the Romantic violin concerto literature. And although these three concertos -- those by Korngold, Barber, and Walton -- are from the twentieth century they are quintessentially Romantic in thrust.

Korngold's luscious concerto, written in a style I've always thought of as '1940s Hollywood chromatic' (think of Raksin's 'Laura' or Korngold's own film scores) was premiered by Heifetz in 1947 (recorded by him in a best-selling recording of the period) and incorporates themes from several of Korngold's film scores (e.g., Another Dawn, Juarez, Anthony Adverse and The Prince and the Pauper). Ehnes's tone is perhaps less cholesterol-rich than some but he plays this crowd-pleasing work with conviction and brilliance, using robust or delicate tone where called for. He is particularly effective in the songful middle movement and in the set of variations that make up the finale.

The story is well known of how Barber was commissioned to write his violin concerto for the protégé of a rich industrialist only to have the young violinist refuse to play it because the finale was technically too difficult. The first two movements brim with ultra-lyrical themes that are underscored by plush orchestral accompaniment that place the soloist directly in the spotlight. The finale -- presto in moto perpetuo -- is a knuckle-busting showpiece. All three movements are given sensational performances by Ehnes.

William Walton's Violin Concerto has been given marvelous recordings by Kyung-Wha Chung, Lydia Mordkevitch and, best of all, by Nigel Kennedy, the latter with the spectacularly effective orchestral accompaniment by the Royal Philharmonic conducted in nonpareil fashion by André Previn. Tough competition. But Ehnes, accompanied here as in all three concerti by the superb Vancouver Symphony under Bramwell Tovey, is definitely in the same league as the others. The Walton is not, in its first two movements, as technically demanding as the Korngold or Barber, but it may be the most emotionally complex of the three; it does not do well in the hands of young and emotionally inexperienced violinists. One need have no fear of a deficit in that regard by Ehnes. This is a superb rendition that eschews flash for emotional radiance. The Walton's finale -- presto capriccioso alla napolitana -- is fiercely difficult, however, written as it was for Heifetz who had asked for something demanding; it is a tarantella with a slew of off-accents, awkwardly placed (but breathtaking) double-stops and superhumanly complicated bowing. Ehnes manages all this with aplomb.

This disc is quite frankly a must-have for lovers of these three concerti. I for one will be eager to hear anything Mr Ehnes chooses to record and will certainly be on the look-out for Ehnes performances anywhere near my neck of the woods.

Strong recommendation.

Scott Morrison
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best !, 19 July 2010
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The playing on this CD is simply magnificent. I've always loved the Joshua Bell recordings of the Walton and Barber concertos but Ehnes pips him at the post by bringing even greater intensity to the works. His 'shaping' of the music shows that he is very much under the skin of this music. Furthermore his tone in the stratosphere is simply breathtaking and perfectly controlled. Bramwell Tovey, conducting the Vancouver Symphony, provides tremendous support. The quality of the recording is top drawer too. I can't wait to explore his Bruch concerto recordings at the earliest opportunity. This is desert island stuff and this is a talent to watch out for!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CD to go for!, 19 Sept. 2011
The Canedian violinist James Ehnes has never played so well than here. Three rather unknown violin concertos on one disc, and what a disc it is! The Barber and the Walton concertos are unsurpassed. Director Bramwell Tovey and his orchestra give the performance of there life. The engineers of the Onyx-label have done a wonderful job too.
An must without any doubt for any serious music collector!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An original and inspired coupling of the three concertos, 24 Sept. 2013
By 
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Violin Concertos (Ehnes) (Audio CD)
This disc from 2006, considered to be well recorded by most but not all listeners, has created a unique and rewarding coupling by bringing together these three particular concertos. The three works were written on very similar dates, the Walton between 1938-9 than revised in 1943, the Barber being from 1939-40 and the Korngold in 1945.

The Korngold concerto is unusual insofar as the composer made extensive use of his previous successful film scores for thematic material. The Barber concerto is unusual insofar as the initial two movements are sufficiently focussed upon lyrical writing that the intended recipient complained that they did not contain sufficient display material but when faced with the contrasting fireworks of the final movement the same recipient complained of the movements extreme difficulty. The Walton concerto on the other hand, suffered from no such problems other than typical slowness in composition and then some revision.

All three works share an intense lyricism which has served both the Barber and Walton concertos well but the cinematic links to the Korngold concerto have been damaging and it has been difficult for it to get established upon the international concert circuit so far. This disc should help in that regard as Ehnes produces what seems to be a masterly performance of the Korngold playing it for its full romantic value and with complete technical assurance. Technical assurance is also vividly apparent in his delivery of the demanding final movement of the Barber concerto and of the challenging second movement of the Walton concerto while the strong lyrical requirements of all three concertos are equally well met.

There is little recorded challenge to Ehnes' recording of the Korngold concerto and relatively little so far in the increasingly taken-up Barber concerto. Joshua Bell would be one of the strongest competitors in that regard, also offering the Walton concerto, but is otherwise differently coupled with Bloch's shorter Baal Shem replacing the Korngold concerto presented on this disc.

Both Bell and Ehnes provide excellent versions of the Walton concerto where the competition is much more severe. Kyung Wha Chung made an award winning recording with Previn in the 1970's still available as a single disc but now re-coupled with the Elgar cello concerto in a fine performance by Harrell. Previn also conducted the justifiably admired version with Kennedy coupled with a strongly delivered viola concerto. Ida Haendel's version of the Walton, coupled with Britten's concerto, is also admired in many quarters and Dong-Suk Kang's version coupled with the cello concerto on Naxos is an obvious bargain.

In terms of the latest versions, I would suggest that this disc by Ehnes is as good as any and certainly one of the top choices from any vintage of recorded history. It clearly deserves to be be seriously considered as a purchase option by all interested collectors, especially those interested in its unique and intriguing combination of concertos representing the same historical period.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The personal touch, 10 Aug. 2014
Could anyone play any of these pieces better than Ehnes? I doubt it. The Korngold is particularly lush. All three of these works sound as if they had been written for Ehnes himself. If these works already appeal to you, then you can't go wrong adding this CD to your collection
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5.0 out of 5 stars Highest recommendation, 20 July 2013
This review is from: Violin Concertos (Ehnes) (Audio CD)
Got this for the Korngold concerto. Haven't listened much to the Barber and Walton concertos. Got this recording as I was impressed with James Ehnes rendition of the Elgar concerto. He doesn't disappoint here and I don't feel like I need any other recording now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Barber concertos, 31 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Violin Concertos (Ehnes) (Audio CD)
This was a gift to myself, having not heard the Barber concerto before, and Ehnes is a wonderful performer, so like it very much. Thank you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best, 5 Dec. 2013
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Well done with minimal exagerated fire, well controlled, beautiful played and recorded. Hard to beat, and wish I got it sooner.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 20 Feb. 2015
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Modern classics by a modern classic.
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