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Stravinsky: Violin Concerto - Ehnes, Davis

Stravinsky: Violin Concerto - Ehnes, Davis

Chandos  CHSA 5340

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Stravinsky: Violin Concerto

James Ehnes (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)


One of the foremost musicians of his generation, James Ehnes continues to dazzle audiences around the world. Here he joins the BBC Philharmonic and Sir Andrew Davis in a recording of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. Written for the Polish virtuoso Samuel Dushkin, the four-movement work takes the music of Bach as its inspiration, and is built around a chord of the notes D, E, and A, which Stravinsky described as his ‘passport to the concerto’ and with which the solo violin part opens each movement. Dushkin gave the première, conducted by Stravinsky, in Berlin in 1932. Apollon musagète, a ballet in two parts for string orchestra, was written in 1927 – 28, and demonstrates the composer’s complete rejection of the Russian folk music and idioms that had been so instrumental in his previous ballets (The Firebird, Petrushka). They are replaced by a concentration on ‘pure form’, which became known as his neo-classical style. The album is completed by his two orchestral suites – light-hearted music arranged from piano duets he had written in the 1910s – and Scherzo à la russe, a showpiece for the Paul Whiteman band that he composed in the early 1940s when newly arrived in California.

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Review by Graham Williams - January 19, 2024

The highlight of this first-rate all-Stravinsky SACD from Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic is James Ehnes’s account of the composer’s Violin Concerto. The concerto was composed between 1931 and 1932, having been commissioned by the violinist Samuel Dushkin with whom Stravinsky collaborated closely during the composition process, and the work is notable for its neoclassical style, a characteristic feature of Stravinsky's work during that period.

As one might expect from a thoughtful violinist like Ehnes, his performance offers much more than mere virtuosic display in the rhythmically complex ‘Toccata’ that opens the concerto and the ‘Capriccio’ with which it ends. In both of the central ‘Aria’ movements Ehnes stresses the lyricism of the music though never at the expensive of forward momentum. Davis and the BBC Philharmonic provide an accompaniment that is meticulous in observing the many dynamic and tempo changes in all four movements and the combination of the soloist’s peerless technique and the conductor’s eloquent and flexible approach to the score makes for a most refreshing account of the work.

The Violin Concerto is followed by a crisply played account of ‘Scherzo à la russe’, composed in the early 1940s for the Paul Whiteman band and later arranged for symphony orchestra, but one that to these ears doesn’t quite have the jazzy swagger of Antal Dorati’s classic Mercury recording Stravinsky: L'oiseau de feu - Dorati.

The two ‘Suites for Small Orchestra’ arranged from piano duets Stravinsky had written in the 1910s may be somewhat inconsequential within the composer’s oeuvre, but these pristine performances from Davis show them in the best possible light.

The final work on this disc is the ballet ‘Apollon musagète’ (1928, revised 1947) that in keeping with the composer’s emerging neoclassical style is scored for just a string orchestra. Davis and the ravishing BBC Philharmonic strings skilfully capture the ballet’s classical poise and elegance aided by the clarity of the Chandos recording. Although there are a number of excellent recordings of this work available on SACD. to which this one may be confidently added, in the final analysis the alternative couplings will probably be the determining factor for most listeners.

The sound of this album, recorded in February 2023 at MediaCityUK, Salford, is warm, detailed and expertly balanced by Sound engineer Stephen Rinker making this a very recommendable release.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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