By L.H Tiffany Hsieh
There was an unusual stillness inside Roy Thomson Hall on Jan. 19, when Canadian violinist James Ehnes performed Mozart’s violin concertos Nos. 1, 2 and 3 with a pared down Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The sweet and tender music kicked off TSO’s [email protected] Festival with just the right amount of youthfulness from Ehnes, who shares Mozart’s birthday of Jan. 27 and who was in total control as soloist and leader.
While Mozart composed his first violin concerto in either 1773 or 1775, he most certainly wrote the last four of his five violin concertos between April and December of 1775, when he was 19 years old.
“That’s both humbling and disturbing,” Ehnes told the audience.
Perhaps due to his regular work in chamber music, Ehnes’ style is relaxed and understated. He has the look and chops of a male diva, but comes across as a down-to-earth virtuoso still imbued with his Brandon, Manitoba roots.
Ehnes’ performances here were beautifully nuanced, complete with spirited humour and, throughout, a natural spark. He captured Mozart’s teenage wit and charm with an attractive and refined sound. It was earthy, lively and, most importantly, sensible and perceptive. The depth in the third concerto was especially affecting.
Ehnes didn’t really lead the orchestra, beating most of the time with his bow arm when he’s not playing. That being said, the TSO needed very little direction. With the exception of a couple of detectable efforts from the horns early on, the performances were tightly unified and perfectly balanced.
The concert overall was like a well-proportioned meal — not too much, not too little. It was just right.