Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review - Violin virtuoso captivates audience

From the Edmonton Journal article October 3, 2011

Concert review - James Ehnes

With: Andrew Armstrong (piano), presented by the Edmonton Chamber Music Society
When: Saturday
Where: McDougall United Church

Church pews aren't getting any softer, but James Ehnes has this magical ability of getting a person so transfixed by violin music, they completely forget about the soreness of their behind.

Saturday night's crowd at McDougall United Church begged to sit longer so Ehnes could do two encores.

The Canadian virtuoso captivated hundreds of listeners with an intimate and generous season opener for the Edmonton Chamber Music Society. With pianist and friend Andrew Armstrong, Ehnes performed for more than two hours for a nearly sold-out house who hung on his bow's every twitch.

And how it moved, that bow. Tiring on the eyes, really, as was the blur of Ehnes' left fingers as he performed four of Paganini's Caprices, Beethoven's Spring Sonata, Frank's Sonata in A Major and Tartini's Devil's Trill, a piece he joked in his preamble might be an ill-suited opening number for a church.

One woman got thirsty on his behalf. "I think I need a drink of water," she told to her companion.

What was particularly lovely about this show was not only the popularity of the music but the cosiness of the experience. There we were, gathered in a historical downtown church with all the house lights up and the soloist down on the same level as most of us (aside from balcony folks). Ehnes was close enough that we could examine the permanent violin callus under his chin and hear his deliberate inhalations at opportune moments (which raises the question, why was someone in the front row using opera glasses?). Street noise percolated in - motorbike engines, ambulance sirens - but only coughing from spectators seemed to bother the violinist. One hardcore hacker got a stern look from Ehnes, though he didn't miss a note.

The violinist talked about each piece before performing it, something generally not done in big concert halls; this, the absence of a microphone and the venue gave the evening a dressed-down, friendly quality; quite the contrast to the stuffiness people fear at the symphony.

I liked that Ehnes didn't have a spotlight. That he wore a plain dark suit. It paired nicely with his modesty, with the notion he is a medium for the music (a gifted medium, granted). Ehnes doesn't need a spotlight. The light pours out of him, a brilliance that stills you on your rock-hard bench as the sound pours into your ears, down you, through you. It finds that tiny drop within you - your soul - and it embraces it so fiercely that you can't help but gasp.

ewithey@edmontonjournal.com twitter.com/lizwithey

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