James Ehnes

James Newton Howard, Aaron Jay Kernis: Violin Concertos

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The music on this Onyx release wasn't conceived as a single presentation: the three works were recorded in Seattle, Detroit, and Monmouth (U.K.), over a period spanning almost a year and a half, and there are two violin concertos, performed respectively with the Seattle and Detroit Symphonies, and a programmatic violin-and-piano piece. Yet Canada's James Ehnes is one of the hottest violinists on the planet, and it's hard to fault Onyx for grouping three works that have in common extremely fluent virtuoso writing that displays his talents to the hilt. Indeed, the album garnered a pair of Grammy award nominations, for Ehnes for Best Classical Instrumental Solo, and for Aaron Jay Kernis for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, and won both categories. The three works are attractively varied, from the straight neo-Romanticism of film composer James Newton Howard (who scored, among other works, My Best Friend's Wedding) to the general 20th century idiom of the prolific Kernis, to the Stream of Limelight of British composer Bramwell Tovey, where Ehnes is joined by pianist Andrew Armstrong. To these ears, the last is the most distinctive of the three works, which break no new ground but would in all cases be thrilling to hear played by Ehnes in person. Onyx engineers have knitted the various sound sources together reasonably effectively, and the album is a genuine crowd-pleaser from start to finish.

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