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CD Review

20th-Century Concertos for Violin

James Ehnes, violin
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
Onyx 4113 66:56
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I really like this pairing, and I really like James Ehnes. Yes, the Shostakovich has a few definitive versions, and the Britten was recorded under the composers' own baton. But Onyx gives us a highly recommendable new version, in absolutely terrific sound.

The Britten sounds wonderful. Firstly, the Bournemouth Symphony plays like a world-class band under Kirill Karabits, an unknown to me to this point. The strings sing gorgeously throughout. I like the attention that Karabits gives to the harp, as well as the sturdy backdrop that helps make this music so effective. This isn't a concerto where you leave the hall humming the tunes, but the conductor takes great care to point out the various beauties in the score. Meanwhile, Ehnes plays gloriously. He's not the least bit daunted by the numerous hurdles for his instrument and is technically assured throughout. He also works very well with Karabits and the orchestra, ensuring a fine artistic partnership that makes a lasting impression.

The Shostakovich is very fine from a technical perspective, but somewhat lacking interpretively. Ehnes arguably plays too smoothly and misses out on some of the ethos of the work. Don't get me wrong, he's aptly virtuosic where he needs to be, and the entire work is very beautiful. One simply feels like others dig deeper, grasping the concerto's rawness and pain. Still, I doubt that anyone will pass on this album because it isn't "raw" enough, and I can imagine many enjoying a different approach. The Britten fares best, but the whole disc is a winner.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman