PROKOFIEV Complete Works for Violin
Chandos steals a march on its rivals by presenting Prokofiev’s ‘Complete Works for Violin’ in a neat two-disc package. However fierce the competition in the concertos, which have been strongly represented on record since the days of Joseph Szigeti and Jascha Heifetz (in the First and Second respectively), James Ehnes’s particular combination of matchless virtuosity, sweet tone, flowing tempi and interpretative restraint suits all this music down to the ground.
You sense that we are in for a special performance of the D major Concerto (No 1) even before the soloist enters, Noseda eliciting a special quality of fairy-tale unreality from its opening shimmer. In fact the contribution of the BBC Philharmonic is distinguished throughout, the reading taut as well as pure. Eschewing the point-scoring interventionism of Josefowicz, Steinbacher et al, there is no danger of sprawl.
Ehnes’s propensity for understatement is yet more striking in the later concerto, where recent exponents have seemed determined to unearth a more belligerent, politicised subtext at the expense of tonal beauty and accurate articulation. I couldn’t do without Kyung-Wha Chung’s heartfelt response to its lyrical slow movement. Then again, Ehnes is exquisite too, helped by an accompaniment of real acuity and grace. Prokofiev’s finale comes across as pungent rather than rough or awkward, abetted by well-judged sound recording which, though resonant in the house style, does not smudge orchestral detail. The chamber works are given a tighter sonic focus in a different venue. Ehnes has been championing the violin sonatas for years and there exists an earlier commercial disc in which he partners Wendy Chen. His current collaborator is the sympathetic Andrew Armstrong, who may or may not be behind what is a considerably tighter conception of the great F minor work (No 1). Some will find this supremely cogent rethink unduly circumspect after the likes of David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter, convincing as it is on its own terms. The companion sonata, reimagined at Oistrakh’s behest from Prokofiev’s flute original, has by contrast a little more weight than before, making the two pieces feel less disparate. If none of the remaining items operates on quite the same level whether Californian, Parisian or Soviet in inspiration, all are worth hearing. Again, Ehnes favours speeds a little brisker than usual. The accompanying, mildly revisionist booklet-note is by David Nice. Strongly recommended.