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Bartok: Sonatas & Folk Dances / James Ehnes

Bartok / Ehnes / Armstrong
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10752   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Performer:  James EhnesAndrew Armstrong
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BARTÓK Sonata for Solo Violin, BB 124. Violin Sonata in e, BB 28. Hungarian Folk Songs, BB 109. Hungarian Folk Tunes. Romanian Folk Dances James Ehnes (vn); Andres Armstrong (pn) CHANDOS 10752 (78:08)

In 35:6, Ehnes and Armstrong’s Volume 1 of Bartók’s violin and piano works earned Robert Maxham’s unhesitating Read more recommendation. Here we have Volume 2, which contains the composer’s oft-recorded Sonata for Solo Violin and the comparatively seldom recorded E-Minor Sonata for Violin and Piano, an extraordinary and very substantial work written by the 22-year-old Bartók in 1903. It’s hard to understand why this impassioned, romantic work has been neglected; perhaps it’s because it doesn’t fit the profile of the Bartók we’re familiar with. But even if there were no other reason to buy this disc, this 30-minute-long sonata would be reason enough; for it presents a sweeping documentary of the dominant forces at work in the music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Echoes of Brahms—listen to the passage beginning at 3:05 in the first movement—commingle with Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. And if the last movement didn’t have Bartók’s name on it, you’d surely think it was a newly discovered Hungarian dance by Brahms, or perhaps a newly discovered Slavonic dance by Dvorák.

But there are lots of other reasons to acquire this CD as well. In fairly short order, Canadian violinist James Ehnes has risen to the very top ranks of today’s internationally acclaimed violin virtuosos, and his rapidly expanding discography, which includes much of the standard violin repertoire—though I’m still waiting for him to give us recordings of the Beethoven, Brahms, and Sibelius concertos—has received critical praise in Fanfare and elsewhere.

Bartók dedicated his sonata for unaccompanied violin to Yehudi Menuhin who premiered it in 1944 and went on to record it in 1947 and again in 1957 and 1975 for EMI. Menuhin was an early and important promoter of Bartók’s music, but by the time of his last recording of the piece (the one I have), the action of his bow arm had deteriorated to the point where he was simply not up to the sonata’s technical challenges. He flounders through much of it, severely mangling some passages while merely approximating others. It’s a sad thing to hear. But even before Menuhin began to decline, I don’t think he could have matched Ehnes in precision of finger-to-bow coordination and surgical sharpness of technique. Menuhin was not that kind of player; his unique gift and great artistry lay in his interpretive insight and communicative power. He was not a virtuoso dazzler in the manner of Heifetz, Francescatti, or Ruggiero Ricci—maybe as a wunderkind he was, but not later. Ehnes makes Bartók’s unaccompanied sonata sound, if not exactly easy, at least under absolute control, with dead accurate intonation and amazingly clean articulation of the score’s knotty double-stopping. His tone never turns grating or gruff, and he never sounds stressed. For all that, I can’t honestly say that Ehnes persuades me that it’s a beautiful piece any more than do Christian Tetzlaff on Virgin Classics or Vilde Frang on her fairly recent recording for EMI. It’s just a very tough, thorny work, nearly as difficult for the listener as it is for the performer.

The sets of Hungarian and Romanian folk pieces are easier on the ear and played with real flair and feeling for the idiom by Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong. Again, the main item on this disc that makes it, in my opinion, a must-have acquisition is the gorgeous E-Minor Sonata, which Ehnes and Armstrong deliver with expressive romantic fervor.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin solo, Sz 117 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  James Ehnes (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USA 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 25 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor by Béla Bartók
Performer:  James Ehnes (Violin), Andrew Armstrong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; Hungary 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 29 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Debrecennek van egy vize, Sz 109 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  James Ehnes (Violin), Andrew Armstrong (Piano)
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 1 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Hungarian Folk Tunes by Béla Bartók
Performer:  James Ehnes (Violin), Andrew Armstrong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926 
Romanian Folkdances (6) for Piano, Sz 56 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Andrew Armstrong (Piano), James Ehnes (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; Budapest, Hungary 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Length: 4 Minutes 2 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 WOW January 21, 2013 By Bob B. See All My Reviews "How can it get better: - excellent material - rarely recorded - excellent execution - what beauty - excellent recording engineering - Chandos quality! All adds up to one an OUTSTANDING recording - a delight to absorb." Report Abuse
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