Festival Music

James Ehnes and Steven Osborne

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce, five stars

THE 1715 “Marsick” Stradivarius played by Canadian violinist James Ehnes not only produces a lovely rich and full sound in his expert hands, it is also one of the most beautiful instruments to look at. It has its ways though, as the player found as he and pianist launched into the ferocious rhythms of the finale of Brahms Sonata No 3 and a tuning peg sprung out onto the Queen’s Hall platform. This was less of a problem for those of us who could watch him swiftly re-string the instrument than for listeners to the live broadcast, as Ehnes was quick to comment, but I am sure Kate Molleson filled the silence with skill. “It’s the trouble with these old, used violins,” joked the violinist, as the duo picked up from where they had left off.

Perhaps the fiddle knew what was coming next though. Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No 1 won the Stalin prize in 1947 and is a very dark work, especially in its opening and third slow movements. They were played over the composer’s dead body as he lay in state at the start of March 1953, having expired in the same hour of the same day as Stalin. The player was David Oistrakh, and the violin the very one that Ehnes now uses.

It was not necessary to know all of that, however, to appreciate the superb partnership that he and Scots pianist Steven Osborne have forged, and with more, much earlier and less troubled Prokofiev in the second half of the recital, and an encore of the third movement of the Second Violin Sonata (originally written for flute) as the encore, surely a recording of the pair of them is in the works.

Let’s hope they also get round to recording that Brahms, and perhaps a disc of French music with Debussy’s Violin Sonata and the exuberance of Ravel’s Tzigane, the first beautifully contemplative and the latter a staggering showpiece, eventually for both instruments.