James Ehnes / Kirill Karabits

Britten & Shostakovich

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Pairing the Violin Concerto, Op. 15, of Benjamin Britten with the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77, of Dmitry Shostakovich is thoughtful programming, for not only were the two composers friends, they were also among the leading tonalists of the mid-20th century, and in many ways, their approaches to composition were quite similar. Both concertos have an edgy, sardonic tone that is far removed from the violin concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, and formally, both works have cadenzas that lead into the Finale, as well as passacaglias, unusual features for modern violin concertos. Perhaps most significantly, they both show a strong emphasis on technical display, as opposed to the soaring lyricism and expressive drama of Romantic concertos. James Ehnes has the skills to pull off the works' most difficult challenges, and his playing is strong, physically present, and easily heard above the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at its loudest. Even more important than mastering the technical aspects is the feeling Ehnes has for the mordant humor and elegiac pensiveness Britten and Shostakovich share, and Kirill Karabits leads the orchestra with sensitivity to the shifting moods in both concertos. The reproduction is well-balanced and clear, and Ehnes is centrally placed, while the orchestra is fully audible without being overwhelming.

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