James Ehnes / Seattle Chamber Music Society

American Chamber Music

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American Chamber Music Review

by James Manheim

Some might not like the cheesy graphics, but otherwise there's very little to complain about in this recording of 20th century American chamber music by Canadian violinist James Ehnes, with members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society, of which he serves as director. Is there a Canadian perspective on American chamber music? Maybe not, but this is an exceptionally well-chosen program, with Samuel Barber's String Quartet in B major, Op. 11, the original home of the Adagio for strings, wrapping up a group of worthwile but less commonly performed pieces. Especially interesting is the opener, Copland's Violin Sonata of 1942-1943, one of the few works that combined his modernist idiom of the 1920s and 1930s with his more popular style. This piece, with its Stravinskian lines, suits Ehnes' dry precision to a T. Leonard Bernstein's Piano Trio of 1937, written when he was a 19-year-old student at Harvard and certainly drawing on either Copland or the composers who inspired him, makes an ideal foil to the Copland work. The program is novel as well in terms of its forces, with a central violinist accompanied by varying forces drawn from a group of chamber players who know each other and have already played together. This results in unusually coherent performances of a movement from Ives' Trio for violin, clarinet, and piano (there would have been room to include the whole thing, but Ehnes might have felt it would disturb the interwar focus), and Elliott Carter's early Elegy. A superior chamber recital.

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