James Ehnes began violin studies at the age of four; five years later he became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin, later studying with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music summer courses. At the age of seventeen he entered The Juilliard School under Thomas, graduating in 1997 with the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music. Although now resident in Bradenton, Florida, he has had several honours conferred upon him by his native Canada.
Ehnes, who plays the 1715 ‘Marsick’ Stradivarius, has made a substantial contribution to the recording scene. His playing, characterised by a large and well-nourished tone (heavily reliant upon a wide, powerful vibrato) is at its best in more extrovert and soloistic repertoire. This can be found in exciting performances of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 3 (2000) and the rarely-recorded Dohnányi Violin Concerto No. 2 (2004), whilst the Barber Violin Concerto (2006) is a thrilling rendition, with a fantastically effervescent and rapid finale and a pleasingly varied and warm approach to the first movement which is enlivened by rather more tempo rubato than many performances.
Smaller-scale works can make Ehnes sound uncomfortable, as if he struggles to match his dramatisation appropriately to the work. Ravel’s Tzigane (2009), in a convincing ‘gypsy’ idiom, Kreisler’s Liebesfreud (2003), full of bonhomie, and Dvořák’s Op. 100 Sonatina (2004) all work well, however. Ehnes’ 2007 album Homage—containing a well-shaped Elgar La Capricieuse—aims to illustrate the differing voices of a range of fine historic instruments and bows. Whilst some variation can be heard, it is (as he acknowledges in his liner notes) Ehnes’ playing that predominates here. It would be interesting to see whether a more restrained, historical approach to playing these instruments would convey differences rather more, since what this disc shows instead is the unifying tonal effect of modern technique and modern strings. To some, Ehnes’ playing might seem rather overblown, but at its best it has a level of directness and excitement one cannot help but admire.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
Role: Classical Artist