James Ehnes seems to be on the threshold of the Pantheon of violinists, in the company of Grumiaux, Kogan, Oistrakh etc., and this recording will do nothing to check that progress. Gramophone declared it “old school”. Exactly! And what’s wrong with that? I’d call it a splendidly central reading. Neither ponderous nor slickly, unduly nimble. There’s a limit to the cult of trim, taut and terrific.
The first movement trills attain an ecstatic quality, which reminded me of the piano equivalent in the slow movement of Ravel’s G Major Concerto. Ehnes and the orchestra, who sound excellent throughout, seem in sweet accord. In the celestial Larghetto, he achieves an exalted level of intimacy and affection, with exquisite phrasing which never sounds cosseted. The finale comes as a release and Manze’s phrasing here becomes quite trenchant.
The fill-ups are a vexed question. Ehnes does his considerable best with the Romances, which always sound like sclerotically slow minuets (Furtwängler, of all people, recorded them with Menuhin). Not Beethoven’s finest moments. The Schubert is more problematic: this is Schubert at his most prolix, which normally doesn’t preclude his genius. Except that here, the material somehow just doesn’t support the length of the work and Ehnes doesn’t quite invest it with the same magic as Joesf Suk and his old Academy of St Martin in the Fields recording of the 1970s.