Bartok: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2, Viola Concerto / Ehnes. Noseda, BBC Philharmonic

> Violin Concerto No. 1, BB 48a - I. Andante sostenuto
> Violin Concerto No. 1, BB 48a - II. Allegro giocoso
> Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117 - I. Allegro non troppo
> Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117 - II. Andante tranquillo
> Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117 - III. Allegro molto
> Viola Concerto, BB 128 (completed by Tibor Serly, 1949) - I. Moderato
> Viola Concerto, BB 128 (completed by Tibor Serly, 1949) - II. Adagio religioso
> Viola Concerto, BB 128 (completed by Tibor Serly, 1949) - III. Allegro vivace

Album Summary

>Bartók, Béla : Concerto for Violin no 1, Sz 36
>Bartók, Béla : Concerto for Violin no 2 in B minor, Sz. 112, BB 117
>Bartók, Béla : Concerto for Viola, Sz 120
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"'Romantic' is not the first word that comes to mind with Bartók, but there is no mistaking the romantic influences that run through these concertos...Ehnes’s sweet tone and sensitive musicianship make this an unexpectedly rewarding disc, with warm-blooded accompaniments" -The Financial Times

"A performance that, throughout, is ear-catchingly alert to the music’s range of tonal shading, its abrupt switches of pace and mood, its powerful bravura and its pungent lyricism...this whole disc...gives a remarkable insight into Bartók’s compositional individuality in performances of captivating artistry." -The Daily Telegraph

Hailed as 'the Jascha Heifetz of our day' (The Globe and Mail, Canada), the violinist James Ehnes is widely considered one of the most dynamic and exciting performers in classical music, appearing regularly with the world's finest orchestras and conductors. Accompanied here by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda, Ehnes is the soloist in Bartók's two violin concertos in which he plays the 'Marsick' Stradivarius of 1715, as well as in the viola concerto, performing on the 'Rolla' Giuseppe Guadagnini viola of 1793, on loan from the Fulton Collection.

James Ehnes said of this disc: 'These three concertos are among the most striking examples of Bartók's early, middle, and late periods, each showing a very different side of one of the great musical voices of all time; they are among my very favorite pieces to perform'.

"Effusively lyrical... hair-raisingly virtuosic" - The Guardian

"His sinewy, lean tone is perfect for the mature Bartok’s stark, rebarbative harmonic language, yet he perceives the lyrical, folkloric vein that runs through the composer’s greatest masterpieces. Ehnes makes the attractive but uncharacteristic early concerto worth hearing, but he really warms to the late lyrical manner Bartok adopted for the Viola Concerto" -The Sunday Times

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester.



Reviews

James Ehnes & the Bartok Violin Concertos
Among the many ‘if only…’ fantasies that marry a particular work to a particular artist is Heifetz performing Bartók’s First Violin Concerto. OK, granted that the work only came to light when its prompting inspiration Stefi Geyer died; but still, 1958 (the year of the eventual premiere) witnessed the height of Heifetz’s prime and if he had a mind to play it, he easily could have done. I write all this because, with the possible exception of Isaac Stern (Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on Sony – nla), James Ehnes offers us the most Heifetzian recording yet, a vibrant, tender-hearted, boisterously youthful account, bittersweet where needs be and eagerly supported by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. The alternation of serenity (first movement, later the First Portrait) and dizzying, up-tempo mood-swings (second movement) has rarely been more securely focused. I can’t think of a finer CD version of the First Concerto than this.

Bartók never thought well enough of his First Concerto to acknowledge his 1938 Violin Concerto as the ‘Second’ and, yes, there’s little doubt as to which work is the true masterpiece. Again, Ehnes and Noseda deliver a spontaneous, keen-edged reading, agile and light on its feet but that faces some stiff CD competition. The most recent contender, by Barnabás Kelemen and the Hungarian National Philharmonic under Zoltán Kocsis, was recorded just a few months before the version under review but sounds as if it hails from a different era, especially in terms of its close-set, ‘in-your-face’ engineering (very ‘Living Stereo’). Kelemen and Kocsis make a formidable team and, to be truthful, their thrilling performance would be difficult to beat. Ehnes and Noseda almost match them but there are one or two rushed fences – for example, a rather obscured string passage that underpins the soloist’s agitated sul ponticello at around 6'54" into the first movement. Then again, Chandos offers the more realistically balanced sound picture, as did Pentatone for the equally excellent (and extremely thoughtful) Arabella Steinbacher version that I reviewed prior to hearing Kelemen. Talk about being spoilt for choice.

As to the unfinished Viola Concerto, Ehnes fully matches the excellent Lawrence Power. In fact his rich, yielding tone makes an even stronger impression, reminiscent of William Primrose in his prime (which would have been before he commissioned the work). The kernel of the piece is its slow movement and I challenge any reader to name a version that is either more moving or more beautifully played. So, an unqualified rave for the First Violin and Viola concertos, and a (mere!) enthusiastic endorsement for the 1938 Violin Concerto, and that’s not only because Kelemen and Kocsis are so exceptional.

Rob Cowan, Gramophone
Submitted on 11/16/11 by HB 
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Works Details

>Béla Bartók (Composer) (1881 - 1945) : Concerto for Violin no 1, Sz 36
  • Performer: James Ehnes (Violin)
  • Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
  • Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Running Time: 20 min. 53 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 1907-1908

>Béla Bartók (Composer) (1881 - 1945) : Concerto for Violin no 2 in B minor, Sz. 112, BB 117
  • Performer: James Ehnes (Violin)
  • Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
  • Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Running Time: 36 min. 7 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 1937-1938

>Béla Bartók (Composer) (1881 - 1945) : Concerto for Viola, Sz 120
  • Performer: James Ehnes (Viola)
  • Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
  • Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Running Time: 20 min. 39 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 1945