THE Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg celebrated its glorious 120-year legacy by inviting one of the top living violinists in the world to tea.
Sunday afternoon’s Tea with James featured Brandon-born virtuoso James Ehnes in an intimate one-hour concert performed with pianist Andrew Armstrong.
Women’s Musical Club Tea with James
120th Anniversary Celebration
Hotel Fort Garry
Sunday, May 3
Attendance: 220 (Sold out)
Five stars out of five
In the planning stages since the fall of 2013, the gala event that included an English high tea inside at the Hotel Fort Garry’s Provencher Room sold out a month ago.
The multiple award-winning violinist, 39, who has performed in more than 30 countries on five continents, scarcely needs introduction. He’s greeted like a hometown hero every time he appears in the city. Ehnes maintains close ties with his home province and travels back to Brandon nearly every year.
His warmth, sincerity, gentle humour and humility were on full display during the weekend recital.
This concert, hosted by broadcaster/writer Eric Friesen, provided a rare opportunity to hear the soloist perform up close and personal. Friesen chatted informally with Ehnes before the violinist played two sonatas, adding to the atmosphere of being a gathering of old friends in a genteel music salon.
It’s also notable that the mostly older audience of 220 included eight of the musical club’s past presidents — all introduced by current president Kathryn Young and lauded for their steadfast “initiative, creativity and commitment” during her opening remarks. She also introduced honorary lifetime member Kathleen Richardson — a quiet backbone of Winnipeg’s arts community — that added further context and gravitas.
The program’s centerpiece, Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82, is considered one of the British composer’s four melancholic and introspective works composed around the end of the First World War, which culminates with his famous Cello Concerto in E minor.
Ehnes attacked its opening movement with gusto, navigating its tempestuous waters that also provided a first taste of his wide-ranging tonal colour palette coaxed out of his stunning 1715 “Marsick” Stradivarius.
He infused his second movement with world-weary resignation in a deeply felt performance, including barely-there runs, hushed tones and a responsive rubato always tastefully matched by Armstrong’s sensitive playing.
The finale showed greater force, displaying Ehnes’s bravura, which grew in emotional intensity and depth until its fiery close.
Special mention must be made of the Connecticut-born Armstrong, critically acclaimed in his own right as concerto soloist, chamber musician and recitalist. Performing with an artist of Ehnes’s stature is surely no easy task, but the powerhouse pianist proved his fearless match note for note. The two musicians’ rapport was immediately palpable, as a compelling partnership that is both organic and responsive to each other.
The second, lesser-known work, Respighi’s Violin Sonata in B minor, created its own revelation. The lushly romantic, three-movement work included virtuosic passages during the opening that saw Ehnes scaling stratospheric heights, to passionate declamations during the Andante espressivo. Ehnes and Armstrong punched out the finale with its strongly rhythmic accents, scarcely pausing to catch their breath as the music hurtled towards its end.
In response to an enthusiastic standing ovation, the duo treated the clearly enthralled crowd to Brahms’ Scherzo in C Minor from the F.A.E. Sonata that teems with vigour and the vitality of youth.
The musical club is to be commended for its vision and all that it continues to do in nurturing our city’s vibrant musical community. This wonderful concert has become one more memory in its own musical annals, as it proudly embarks on its next 120 years.