James Ehnes at Wigmore Hall – J. S. Bach Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin

Partita in E, BWV1006
Partita in D minor, BWV1004

James Ehnes (violin)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 6 January, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

James Ehnes. Photograph: Benjamin EalovegaThe unfortunate late withdrawal of pianist Andrew Armstrong due to illness led to a nifty change of repertoire for violinist James Ehnes. He replaced the original programme for this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert – Sonatas by Mozart and Brahms – with two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s unaccompanied Partitas.

The Wigmore Hall acoustic is ideal for such works. Ehnes projected a beautiful sound to the back of the venue with ease. He was aided by very careful attention to dynamic detail, emphasising the lovely echo effects in the ‘call and response’ passages of the ‘Prelude’ of the E major Partita. With complete accuracy, not least regards tuning, he was able to focus intently on his spacious interpretations.

Ehnes’s Bach is unfussy, often rhythmically straight and ‘as written’ but always keen to bring out the music’s dance elements. The ‘Gavotte en Rondeau’ of BWV1006 skipped most attractively, with a rustic feel, while there was an incisive snap to the rhythms of the D minor Partita’s ‘Corrente’ and a poise to the ‘Giga’, notable also for exceptional clarity. Playing from memory, Ehnes demonstrated his affinity for Bach’s music, his instinctive playing guiding the works fluently through even the trickiest of arpeggio sequences.

The D minor Partita, the more solemn of the two played here, was a cloud to the sunlight of its E major counterpart. Ehnes invested the ‘Prelude’ with a touching seriousness before exploring the dissonance of the ‘Sarabande’, ever more inward and personal, and subsiding to a mere whisper.Multiple-stopped passages were lucid, although, but for a couple of exceptions, repeats were eschewed, but this did not harm the structural flow of the music. And so, inevitably, we arrived at the great ‘Chaconne’ with which BWV1004 closes. Ehnes played it with great virtuosity, but always musically rather than for display. Forthright and powerful, it grew as a large tapestry, each idea woven to the previous one with impressive surety. As an extra item Ehnes chose the restful ‘Largo’ from the C major Sonata, BWV1005.

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