Elgar’s Enigma Variations

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Saturday 13th December 2014 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor
James Ehnes  violin

Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge 27′
Walton: Violin Concerto 28′ Watch on YouTube

Elgar: Engima Variations 31′
Listen on Spotify

James Ehnes’ encore – JS Bach – Sonato No.3 Final movement

Elgar dedicated his Enigma Variations to “my friends pictured within”, and if all you know of them is Nimrod, you’re about to meet some of the most engaging characters in British music. Guest conductor Andrew Litton begins with Britten’s playful salute to a well-loved teacher, and James Ehnes scales the gleaming heights of Walton’s dazzling Art Deco violin concerto.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post (for Wednesday’s matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “Whatever thoughts of the Brahms were in his head, Ehnes delivered a wonderfully poignant, soul-searching account of the Walton, his rich, full tones seamlessly singing with resigned regret (despite a waspish, brilliantly-bowed attempt at heady escapism), and Litton and the CBSO reciprocated with arching phrasing and piquant interjections.

What should have opened the concert then followed, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge the showcase for a CBSO string section on top form, adept in the young composer’s brilliant compendium of styles and techniques.

Britten’s musical characters were followed by the human characters of Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Litton’s reading was refreshingly unsentimental (thank you for such an honest, unaggrandised Nimrod) but always tender.”     …

*****

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian (for Wednesday’s matinee of same programme)

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…     “Ehnes’s fearless response to both works spoke for itself. The fine balance of Walton’s reflective lyricism and its capricious displays of technique were handled with flair, and the tone that Ehnes produced high on the E string lent a sweetness to the music too often lost in more effortful performances. Litton’s instinct for the jazzy element in Walton’s score added to the scintillating effect.

The CBSO string players’ admiration of Ehnes seemed to fire them up for Britten’s Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, which had been moved to later in the programme so as to allow Ehnes a fast getaway. They played with great elan.”     …

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Holst’s The Planets

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Saturday 15th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazy  conductor

James Ehnes  violin

Ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir

Elgar   Violin Concerto 54’
Holst   The Planets 49’

Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts two of the greatest classics of English music. Holst’s The Planets is a marvellously evocative depiction of astrological influences, whilst Elgar’s Violin Concerto contains some of the composer’s most intimate and personal music, shot through with nostalgia for a passing Edwardian age.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:

Nearly 100 years since its composition, Holst’s The Planets remains the most recorded piece of British music. The menace of Mars is its most famous movement, but the joyous vigour of Jupiter made the cleaners put down their brooms and dance in the aisles during its first rehearsals!

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…    “There is something quite magical about watching Ashkenazy. Not only is he incredibly enthusiastic but he also has a fluidity of conducting.

He coaxes the music out of every performer and then seems to feel it in his own movement – it is as though his very muscles reverberate music.

The Philharmonia Orchestra certainly responded to his energy with a Planets Suite which was packed with nuance, action and life. When a piece as well-known as this can still find new colour, the conductor and orchestra must be doing something right.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Beneath the rhetoric, beneath the intricate solo writing, beneath the imposing proportions there beats a heart pierced with insecurity and regret, an inferiority complex which can only be hidden by swagger. And together James Ehnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy found it all.

Ehnes, a gentle giant, brought a rich, elegiac tone and unobtrusive virtuosity to his performance. Ashkenazy, diminutive and jerkily hyperactive (his conducting technique, quite the reverse of the austere Pierre Boulez, will never be a role-model), drew from what appears to be a rejuvenated Philharmonia both a remarkable depth of sonority and well-pointed athleticism. Rapport between soloist and orchestra in the finale’s extended, retrospective cadenza was extraordinarily gripping.”     …

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Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

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…     “The Planets was preceded by Canadian violinst James Ehnes performing Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. This is the second time I have seen Ehnes perform at Birmingham Symphony Hall and, although impressed with his playing on the first occasion, he surpassed himself this evening. Ehnes is a passionate and earnest performer, not given to excessive flamboyance or extravagance and this clean style is perfectly suited to the repertoire. In this mentally and physically exerting piece, Ehnes appeared to give himself over entirely to the music and was able to fully exploit the emotional pull of the concerto, whilst successfully demonstrating his technical virtuosity with a stunning cadenza. A captivating performance by a musician of the highest calibre, Ehnes’ performance, like that of the Philharmonia Orchestra, cannot be praised enough.”     …

The Year 1913: Ballets Russes

Saturday 16 February 2013 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simone Young conductor
James Ehnes violin

Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina – Prelude 6′
Sibelius: Violin Concerto 33′ Listen on Spotify
Debussy: Jeux 19′ Listen on Spotify
Stravinsky: The Firebird – Suite (1911) 26′

 James Ehnes’ encore – Bach – Sonata 3 – Largo

Paris, 1913: and a radical team of composers, artists and dancers ignites a revolution. Welcome to the fabulous world of the Ballets Russes, where Stravinsky paints Russian fairytales in rainbow colours, and Debussy sets a game of tennis to the music of seduction. The inspirational Australian conductor Simone Young makes her Birmingham debut in this gorgeous programme, which begins with Mussorgsky’s serene Moscow dawn and features Birmingham favourite James Ehnes in the fire and ice of Sibelius’s popular Violin Concerto.  www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The Mussorgsky, with its rarified, delicate ambience, proved a shrewd choice as a prelude to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The Canadian virtuoso, James Ehnes impressed from the start. He has a very natural platform presence, completely devoid of showiness, and his seemingly effortless technique put him in full command of this demanding concerto. So, for example, he was able to bring both dazzle and poetry to the first movement cadenza. His singing tone, especially rich on the G string, was a delight in the wonderful slow movement. Ehnes plays on a 1715 Stradivarius, the so-called ‘Marsick’ violin, and it’s clearly a glorious instrument, especially in his hands. He projected his sound wonderfully, even in the quietest of passages. This account of the slow movement was enthralling from start to finish. Soloist and conductor were at one throughout the concerto but nowhere more so than in the finale, which was given an urgent and exciting reading. As in the first movement, Simone Young made one realise how close to the sound world of the composer’s first two symphonies many of the tutti passages are. Ehnes was superb once again and the contribution of the CBSO was memorable. As an encore Mr Ehnes gave us the Largo from Bach’s Third Violin Sonata. Here sovereign purity of tone was allied to simplicity of style in a marvellous performance that was an ideal foil to the preceding concerto.”     …

 

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “With the Sibelius Violin Concerto she was no less considerate, providing a coolly refined opening to the Adagio that contrasted perfectly with the richly enunciated discourse of soloist James Ehnes. For his part Ehnes brought to this much-loved work a finely contoured combination of sweetness and steel, presenting the opening theme as a fully formed entity rather than exploratory quest, and adopting a measured approach to the finale that avoided histrionics and focused on musical integrity – a commendably thoughtful approach.”       *****

Once Upon a Time

Wednesday 9 May 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazuki Yamada conductor
James Ehnes violin

Ravel: Mother Goose Suite 16′ Listen on Spotify
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 22′
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade 47′ Listen on Spotify

Once upon a time, three composers sat down to tell a story. Ravel paints his fairy-tales in glowing orchestral colours. Prokofiev makes a glittering solo violinist the hero of a very Russian tale of fantasy and romance. And Rimsky-Korsakov flies us to ancient Persia for an adventure beyond the imagination, in his spectacular, ever-popular Scheherazade. There’s action, there’s love, and there’s sheer magic, as conductor Kazuki Yamada and the great Canadian violinist James Ehnes ask the timeless question – are you sitting comfortably? www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Maggie Coton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The indisputable star of the evening was leader Laurence Jackson, beguiling as Scheherazade with exquisite, sensuous sound throughout, eventually mesmerizing with a heart-stopping seamless gossamer thread.”

***** 

CBSO 90th Birthday Concert

Wednesday 10 November 2010 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
James Ehnes  violin

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier – Suite 21′
Haydn: Symphony No. 90 25′
Elgar: Violin Concerto 45′

Encore: Strauss: Salome’s Dance

On 10 November 1920 in Birmingham Town Hall, Sir Edward Elgar
mounted the podium to conduct the first official concert by the brand-new
City of Birmingham Orchestra – the future CBSO. And exactly 100
years ago in London, he conducted the world premiere of his Violin
Concerto: arguably his most personal work, certainly his most passionate.
Tonight Andris Nelsons, violinist James Ehnes and the CBSO celebrate
this double anniversary in lavish style, and mark another milestone on
the CBSO’s 10-year 2020 project with a second masterpiece from
1910: the sumptuous suite from Richard Strauss’s most gorgeous
opera (and that’s saying something). Haydn’s joyous 90th Symphony
completes this 90th birthday celebration. www.cbso.co.uk

Recorded for Radio 3 to be broadcast 7pm Thursday 11th November http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vfb0p

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

http://www.birminghampost.net/life-leisure-birmingham-guide/2010/11/11/review-cbso-90th-anniversary-concert-65233-27639990/

…”The mood changed completely for the Elgar Violin Concerto, exactly a century old this evening. Rapport between Nelsons, the orchestra and soloist James Ehnes was miraculous, Ehnes singing a seamless song of wistful regret, his accompanists with him every step of this marathon way. Eventually we arrived at the famous cadenza, the orchestral strings shimmering, Ehnes musing nostalgically in dark rich tones.

A party may have launched the evening; it ended with an orgy, the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss’ Salome stirringly vivid from a hugely enlarged orchestra responding to Nelsons’ self-exhausting choreography.”