Here's your disc of the week for Sept. 29, 2013. Each week CBC Radio 2's In Concert looks at new classical music releases and selects one recording that you'll want to know about.
Artists: Violinist James Ehnes, conductor Gianandrea Noseda, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, and pianist Andrew Armstrong.
Repertoire: Complete works for violin by Sergei Prokofiev.
The latest release from Canadian violinist James Ehnes has just arrived. And it proves, if proof were necessary at this stage in his career, that Ehnes is truly the Wayne Gretzky of the violin.
James Ehnes plays the 1st movement of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto N1.
Critics have called Ehnes the reincarnation of the great 20th-century violinist Jascha Heifetz. He's also been compared favourably with gods as well as demons.
But the Gretzky analogy works for me because it suggests not just skill (his technique is always brilliant), not just impeccable precision (his intonation is shockingly accurate), but an other-worldly sense of musical pacing (his phrasing is, quite simply, breath-taking).
The Great Gretzky was said to know where the puck was headed before it got there. He was described as being able to control time. Writer and broadcaster Peter Gzowski said of the hockey player: "There is an unhurried grace to everything Gretzky does on the ice" and went on to describe the athlete's uncanny ability to change the flow of a game with a mere nanosecond of hesitation or anticipation.
Same with Ehnes, whose effortless control of an evolving musical line is quite simply staggering.
You'll hear it played out here on this great two-CD set devoted to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, written in the early decades of the last century. Among the highlights are Prokofiev's two brilliant violin concertos, ably accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra led by the articulate and nuanced Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Here, Ehnes applies piercing, crystalline tone to this hauntingly beautiful music.
You'll hear that same purity of sound, along with slightly edgier charm, in the set of four Prokofiev sonatas featured on the recording, one of which was written for two violins and features Ehnes partnering with the American violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti.
Throughout it all, Ehnes plays the violin like Gretzky skates — like no one else on earth.