Ehnes Quartet / James Ehnes / Mark Wigglesworth

Khachaturian, Shostakovich

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This 2014 Onyx release gives violinist James Ehnes an opportunity to present his talents in different contexts, first as the soloist in the Violin Concerto by Aram Khachaturian, and secondly as the leader of the Ehnes String Quartet in performances of Dmitry Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, and the String Quartet No. 8 in C minor. Naturally, the concerto is a colorful display piece that gives Ehnes the chance to show off his prodigious skills, and he is outstanding in this exciting performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth. Khachaturian's music was calculated for maximum effect, as a vehicle for the great David Oistrakh, and the violin receives central placement in the scoring, with many openings in the active orchestration to let it shine. To further that aim, Ehnes is recorded with a fairly close microphone that puts him up front, and every note is perfectly audible. The two string quartets contrast with the concerto in their smaller sound and narrower range of dynamics and timbres, and here Ehnes is part of the ensemble. The sardonic and introspective moods of Shostakovich's quartets also contrast with the straightforward showmanship of the Khachaturian concerto, so Ehnes and his colleagues in the quartet face a challenge in communicating darker emotions right after so much brilliant virtuosity. Whether these works complement each other must be left to the listener's taste, but they may be heard to best advantage in different sittings.

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