James Ehnes / Vladimir Ashkenazy

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Octet

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The last of his orchestral compositions and one of his most enduringly popular pieces, Mendelssohn's violin concerto is as much a crowd-pleaser now as it was when premiered by Ferdinand David and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1845. Its unassuming focus on melody and dynamic interaction between soloist and orchestra -- rather than merely on technical feats and virtuosic showmanship -- ensures its place at the heart of the violin concerto repertoire. On the opposite end of Mendelssohn's short career is the Op. 20 Octet, a vibrant, pioneering work completed when Mendelssohn was all of 16 years old. Violinist James Ehnes joins Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra for a superb performance of the concerto. Ehnes quickly demonstrates why he is deserving of all the praise that has been heaped upon him. His playing combines a flawless, effortless technique, with a vibrant, robust tone, and a keen sense a pacing ad dynamics that yields a captivating, gripping performance. Ashkenazy leads the Philharmonia in a performance that is not a mere accompaniment, but rather a true, tight-knit collaboration with the soloist. Ehnes joins members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society for the Octet. Here, the same clarity and transparency of tone achieved in the concerto is somewhat lacking; the inner voices are sometimes dulled and not given their due as an equal partner. Still, the album is well worthwhile for the concerto alone.

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