BARTÓK Works for Violin and Piano Volume 2
Ehnes gives a stunning account of the Solo Sonata. The impression is that he’s simply following all Bartók’s meticulous direction – bowing, dynamics, modifications of tempo – and adding nothing extra. If this seems boring, the effect is anything but: clarity of articulation, beauty of sound, the ease with which he surmounts the technical challenges, and deep understanding of the work’s structure and character; all these combine to make a performance that’s exciting and enthralling. It’s very different from the recent Vilde Frang recording, which is equally brilliant but more overtly passionate and full of individual touches that give it the aspect of a fascinating personal take on the music. Ehnes, presenting unadorned Bartók, as it were, ultimately leaves a stronger impression.
It’s intriguing to search for hints of the mature Bartók in the 1903 Sonata, an ambitious, large-scale work whose first movement is elaborated in a somewhat Straussian manner, followed by a variation movement and finale that draw on a post-Lisztian Hungarian idiom. Played as here, with intense commitment and real virtuosity, it’s a most enjoyable piece. The middle movement is particularly engaging – a sombre, funereal theme and variations that suggest different styles of gypsy music, with cimbalom-like flourishes. Andrew Armstrong catches the spirit of these to perfection. The three suites of folk pieces are performed in authentic style and with irresistible panache. If anyone doubts Ehnes’s status as a wizard of the violin, they should listen to the way he plays the harmonics on tr 19.