CD review: Beethoven from James Ehnes & Andrew Armstrong

First published in the Guardian on 16 February, 2017

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos 6 & 9
Ehnes/Armstrong (Hyperion)

Violinist James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong play together with that intuitive spark and easy suppleness that only old friends really can. In the past they’ve done excellent things with Franck and Strauss, with Debussy, Elgar and Respighi; now they turn to Beethoven with the same combination of light touch and searing focus. There’s a clarity of ideas that means they never have to overstate — take the initial phrase of the Kreutzer sonata, the impeccably eloquent way the radiant opening chord clouds over so quickly and so decisively. Flashes of white heat in that first movement subside into a graceful reading of the Sixth sonata, full of featherweight diction. For some listeners the sound won’t be brawny or volatile enough for mid-period Beethoven, but it would be wrong to mistake cleanliness for lack of emotional depth. The simple, conversational generosity of this duo speaks volumes.