Sonatina in G for Violin and Piano, Op.100
Sonata for Solo Violin
Introduction et tarantelle, Op.43
James Ehnes (violin) & Eduard Laurel (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 19 February, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The theme of the dance ran loosely through the three pieces on James Ehnes’s lunchtime recital, which was clearly designed to ease the gloom of a Monday in February – and succeeded handsomely.
Dvořák’s Sonatina offered a characteristically vivid blend of Afro-American melodies and Czech dance rhythms, Bartók’s solo sonata made much of the Hungarian country dance in its finale and Sarasate’s display piece had as its focus of attention a ‘moto perpetuo’ tarantella.
Dvořák first, and a delighful and melodious work that responded well to Ehnes’s lightness of touch. A delicate, sweet-toned response to the firm opening statement set the tone for the first movement, the interplay between violin and piano always carefully thought out. Ehnes brought a feather-light touch to the scherzo but a heavier edge to the galloping ‘Furiant’ theme in the finale. An elegiac slow movement was dominated by the bittersweet Afro-American theme but found its highlight in Laurel’s rippled accompaniment to the second melodic idea.
The fiendish demands made by Bartók in his solo violin sonata fell somehow effortlessly under Ehnes’s deft fingers. The violinist’s sound here was clear – not to say clinical or devoid of colour, but remarkable in its definition. This did however mean the sonata took a little while to warm, and the ‘Fuga’ could definitely have done with more aggression in its execution, despite the impressive definition of its parts.
Ehnes came into his own in the ‘night music’ of the slow movement however, completely silencing the hall with a whispered central section, softly-whistled false-harmonics and fluttering tremolandi superbly done. A rich opening to this slow movement was a touch heavy on the amount of vibrato used, but this was balanced in a more elegant reprise that gradually died away, allowing the Presto finale to come in from almost nothing.
Here once again was formidable technique, with real shaping of even the most complex double-stopped phrases, finished off emphatically by Ehnes.
Sarasate is not commonly regarded as an original melodist, but the Tarantelle seems to employ one of his best examples, a whirlwind track that required the merest of punctuation from Laurel as Ehnes crammed in the notes. However this accompaniment provided an important rhythmic reference point that the violinist closely adhered to, and the pair tossed away even the most demanding of fast passages with aplomb.
The Introduction to the Tarantelle was a warmly romantic Neapolitan love-song, and Ehnes affected a second such piece in Kreisler’s Liebesleid as an encore, stylishly prepared with a tender pianissimo for the second theme.