Critic’s Choice

Tue Apr 09, 2019 at 8:28 pm
James Ehnes. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

James Ehnes. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

The Romantic period was awfully good to the violin. Its role as a solo instrument was certainly well established by the early 1800s, but the Romantic focus on melody as the driver of music, combined with innovations in playing technique, led to the emergence of a new, more heroic voice for the instrument by the end of the century. This period gave us some of the greatest violin concerti, those by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák, as well as countless others by Max Bruch, Henri Vieuxtemps, Camille Saint-Saëns, Édouard Lalo, and Henryk Wieniawski.

The epilogue, as late romanticism was leading into modernism at the start of the twentieth century, produced perhaps the most intense example of the genre: Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor. From the haunting ice of its opening, through the pining of its Adagio and the mad, almost primal stomping of its finale, this is a piece packed with raw emotion. The writing in the solo part is ferociously difficult, but in the hands of the right musician all of that technical ability becomes a powerful expressive tool.

New York audiences have a chance to hear the concerto played by one of today’s top violinists, James Ehnes, when he performs with Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic on Monday night. Part of the Lincoln Center Great Performers series, Monday’s rich program also features Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

Edward Gardner leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra 8 p.m. Monday in David Geffen Hall.

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