JN Howard • Kernis • B Tovey
Ehnes bows, picks and plucks his way to a frenzied finish
Kernis: Violin Concerto; JN Howard: Violin Concerto;
B Tovey: Stream of Limelight
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano); Seattle Symphony/ludovic Morlot; Detroit Symphony Orchestra/cristian M celaru Onyx ONYX 4189 68:25 mins James Ehnes is one of the great violinists of the day, so it’s no wonder composers are falling over themselves to write new things for him to play. This disc showcases three commissions aimed squarely at the Canadian virtuoso’s dazzling skillset. At the centre is a concerto by James Newton ★oward, a name cinemagoers will be familiar with – indeed, with a career spanning over three decades, he is one of the most accomplished of ★ollywood’s composers. The work, which follows a prior 2015 concert commission for the Pacific Symphony (and Ehnes), is lyrical, wildly cavorting and – in the Andante semplice second movement – sweetly poignant.
Aaron Jay Kernis’s preceding concerto requires Ehnes to delve even deeper into his virtuoso’s tool kit. With a highly charged first movement, Kernis sets out his stall with intense drama, before a fabulously film noir-ish second movement. Smokey, muted trumpets, a song-like lamentation on the violin and a frisson of kit-percussion make this a standout turn from both composer and soloist. The final movement is a wilder extension of this jazz-tinged mode, and the thrilling final minute-and-a-half sees Ehnes bowing, picking and plucking to a frenzied finish.
Bramwell Tovey’s Streams of Limelight is a delightful musical conversation between violin and piano that, at times, feels like a silent movie score; the ‘dialogue’ turns on a dime between hysteria and tender sweetness.
The three recordings here are top notch, particularly the two live concerto performances, and the applause and cheers on those are proof enough of the mastery on display.
Hear extracts from this recording and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Music Magazine website at www.classical-music.com
In the limelight: James Ehnes shines brightly