Violinist Ehnes delivers exhilarating recital in Coral Gables

By Lawrence Budmen

James Ehnes performed Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

The brilliantly gifted violinist James Ehnes balanced fearless virtuosity and artistry of the highest order in an exhilarating recital on Thursday night for the Coral Gables Congregational Church Summer Concert Series. Familiar scores by Franck and Mozart and a Saint-Saens rarity were bookended by folk-infused showpieces of Bela Bartok. Andrew Armstrong, a former winner of the American Chopin Competition and the Gilmore Young Artist Award, was his formidable keyboard partner.

Ehnes brought fire and finesse to Bartok’s Rhapsody No.1, attacking the gypsy rhythms with gusto. Taking the finale at a rapid-fire tempo, Ehnes’ spot-on intonation and dazzling agility brought cheers from the near-capacity audience.

The violinist approached Franck’s Sonata in A Major with freshly minted Gallic élan rather than the heavy-handed angst that many impose on the score. His coolly cerebral reading of the opening Allegretto set the tone for the performance, devoid of overt sentimentality. Ehnes offered a welcome sense of visceral energy and astringency in the Allegro. The glorious tones of his 1715 Marsick Stradivarius soared in the Recitativo-Fantasia and the lightness and singing line of the finale sparkled. Armstrong’s big-boned pianism complemented a revelatory performance.

Mozart’s Violin Sonata in C Major, K. 303 was played in an unabashedly romantic manner, recalling the era of Misha Elman and Fritz Kreisler. For all his honeyed tone and flexible phrasing, Ehnes imbued the Molto allegro section of the opening movement with gutsy sinew.

Camille Saint-Saens’ scores are skillfully crafted, aesthetically conservative and replete with splashes of instrumental color. The Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor is a typically sugar-spun confection that links the salon and the concert hall. It gave Ehnes the opportunity to unfurl his full panoply of violinistic pyrotechnics. The burnished darkness of his sound in the Adagio was prelude to a fleet third movement Allegretto, the noble secondary theme given spacious gravitas by Ehnes. His light, rapid bowing and full-throttle combustion turned the Paganini-like finale into a tour de force, the high harmonics dispatched like child’s play.

Following a prolonged ovation, Ehnes brought the program full circle with Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances as an encore. Alternately channeling the impassioned, haunting sadness of times past or the fiery pizzazz of a gypsy fiddler, Ehnes and Arnstrong brought stellar musicianship and edge-of-the-seat bravura to the profusion of folk melodies.

The Coral Gables Congregational Church Summer Concert Series continues July 7 with guitarist David Leisner playing his own Labyrinths and works by Bach, Schubert, Gershwin, Legrand and Jobim. 305-448-7421, ext 153;

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Fri Jun 24, 2011
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