Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hard on the heels of Gregory Fulkerson's recent superb recording of these works for Bridge Records comes this equally fine but wholly different version by young Canadian violinist James Ehnes. This is in every way an astounding performance, and I can't think of any other that sounds quite like it. Analekta has captured the soloist in an intimate yet flattering acoustic, and aside from a lovely tone and virtuosity to spare, what Ehnes brings to this music is an incredible sense of rhythm and a precise knowledge of how to use it. The final movement (Allegro assai) of Sonata No. 3, for example, isn't as quick as Fulkerson, Milstein, or Grumiaux play it, but what a wealth of detail, what a firm sense of
line, and what clear harmonic direction Ehnes gives the music!
In the three great fugues (one in each sonata), Ehnes makes less of the dynamic contrast between subject and answer than many other players, and you would think this a liability, but in reality it gives the music a welcome fullness of texture and energizes Bach's contrapuntal lines, both real and implied. Similarly, the Chaconne's majestic pace (it's one of the slower ones, lasting a bit longer than 16 and a half minutes) never seems heavy or sluggish thanks to Ehnes' amazing ability to project a steady, clear, triple-time rhythm that inexorably sustains (indeed enhances) the music's incredibly powerful harmonic tensions over its entire, epic length. It goes without saying that anyone who can achieve this will do wonders in differentiating and characterizing the various dances that comprise the remaining numbers in the three partitas.
One of Bach's more amazing feats of transcription was his recasting of the Preludio from the E major Partita as the introduction to Cantata No. 29, rescoring it for solo organ and large orchestra (including trumpets and drums). Ehnes manages to match that arrangement in brilliance, depth, and grandeur, and no other single example of his playing offers finer testimony to his ability to project the music's scale, its very completeness, despite the theoretical limitations of writing for a single violin. And that, in a nutshell, is the whole point, isn't it? [2/28/2001]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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