Lyricism is to the fore as Ehnes explores a handful of works written out of the anxieties of the time.

Debussy · Elgar · Respighi
Violin Sonatas
James Ehnes v, Andrew Armstrong p
Onyx ONYX4159

The Elgar Sonata really enchanted me. It’s a work I feel very strongly about. It’s an unusual magical piece. There’s not really anything that fills the same sort of emotional space for me – James Ehnes

Three wartime sonatas make for a fine match

Debussy, Elgar and Respighi. It’s a curious line-up, but this collection of sonatas for violin and piano works perfectly. All were written within years of each other: Debussy’s in 1916 (it was the composer’s last major work), Respighi’s in 1918 (the year of Debussy’s death), and Elgar’s in 1919. They’re perfect vehicles for world-class violinist James Ehnes, whose performances demonstrate a brilliant array of tone colours: from bold, impassioned flexing strokes to soft, limpid lines achieved with just the right amount of bow hair. Andrew Armstrong is the perfect partner – a sensitive player who can pack a punch when it counts.

Debussy’s Sonata opens with an unsettled Allegro that twists and winds through curious harmonic regions. Both Ehnes and Armstrong capture the strange mystery of this music with brilliant ensemble skills. Elgar’s sonata opens with a spiky counterpoint between the violin and piano. Ehnes perfectly negotiates the shifts from faster, driving passagework to lyrical episodes, ensuring his expressive and nuanced tone remains throughout.

The violin sonata of Ottorino Respighi is a most welcome find – a fascinating insight into the composer’s own affinity with the instrument. The second movement is a high point of the disc. A most pleasurable programme, performed by two very high calibre musicians. Andrew Aronowicz

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