J. S. Bach: The Concerto Album

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J. S. Bach: The Concerto Album

11.00

Lara St John is a first-rate Bach violinist, her playing lithe and full of communicative intensity. Allegros are exhilaratingly fresh, favoring fleet tempi; indeed, some will feel that the outer movements of the Double Concerto are too brisk. Yet they set off the simplicity of approach to the beautiful slow movement in which Scott St John is an admirable partner. With buoyant, polished accompaniments, this collection is very enjoyable indeed, especially as the unaccompanied G minor Sonata is equally rewarding, and the recording throughout real and vivid.- Penguin Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs, 2005/06 Edition

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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 1 in A minor, BWV 1041 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Lara St. John (Violin) 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Bach Ensemble
Period: Baroque
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany
Date of Recording: 09/2000
Venue:  American Academy of Arts & Letters, NYC
Length: 13 Minutes 7 Secs. 

 

Concerto for Violin no 2 in E major, BWV 1042 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Lara St. John (Violin) 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Bach Ensemble
Period: Baroque
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany
Date of Recording: 09/2001
Venue:  American Academy of Arts & Letters, NYC
Length: 16 Minutes 2 Secs. 

 

Sonata for Violin solo no 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Lara St. John (Violin) 
Period: Baroque
Written: 1720; Cöthen, Germany
Length: 14 Minutes 8 Secs. 

 

Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Scott St. John (Violin), Lara St. John (Violin) 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Bach Ensemble
Period: Baroque
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany
Length: 14 Minutes 0 Secs. 

 


At long last, Lara St. John has returned to the recording studio after establishing her own record label and has given us more music by her favorite composer. We have here the canonical solo concertos in A minor and E and the Double Concerto in D minor. The performances are delightful, individual, even exciting, unlike any other recording of these works that I know. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with St. John's playing. Before I heard this recording, I never realized that this music had so much drama, specially in the slow movements. As with any really great performance, I felt as though I were hearing the music for the very first time. The New York Bach Ensemble is a superb group that brings out the contrapuntal interplay between orchestra and soloists like no other group I've heard. Best of all, they match the soloist's enthusiasm. One thing I especially like is that the keyboard part is sometimes assigned to a chamber organ rather than the usual harpsichord.

St. John is joined by her brother Scott, professor of violin at the University of Toronto, in the Double Concerto, and their stylistic unity is a real plus. St. John plays the Sonata with the same high-octane style she has in the concertos. The fugue is especially exciting; and, while many don't know what to do with the opening Adagio, she understands its mercurial, improvisational character very well. She finds a trembling delicacy in the Siciliana that has eluded others.

This recording of the concertos is in a class by itself. I can't even think of a recording that I would name as second best to this one. Those who have not yet acquainted themselves with St. John's exceptional artistry would do well to hear this. Excellent sound.

American Record Guide, May 2002


Lately, folks are starting to take Lara St. John—the Canadian-born violinist that Fashion Toronto once called a "six-foot amazon with the waist-length, honey-blonde tresses"—much more seriously. Of course, St. John, a shrewd marketer as well as a gifted performer, has caused a storm of controversy, posing nude on the cover of her debut CD (her breasts were obscured by the violin) and often making suggestive comments in the press.

A recent review of this CD prompted Gramophone to scoff that St. John (who appears vamping in heavy makeup and see-through dress in a booklet fold-out on a poster-size pin up) "has no need to engage in such ignoble marketing ploys" while praising her "silvery" tone, "fleet tempos," and remarkable technique. St. John’s approach to these demanding works is a combination of supple grace and power. There is so much joy in St. John’s performance (she plays exquisitely on the 1779 "Salabue" Guadagnini known as The Resurrection) that it would be a shame to dismiss her for being crass or just too darn cute.

Strings Magazine, May 2002


Lara St John does not play a Baroque violin but is clearly aware of current trends in period instrument performance practice. She has a sleek and silvery one, favours fleet tempos, and applies vibrato judiciously. The effect in these Bach concertos is reminiscent of Kennedy’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic yet considerably more stylish and satisfying. Even if the New York Bach Ensemble cannot match Berlin’s plush string sound, the New Yorkers evoke the unique character of each work, making a clear distinction, for example, between the thick textures of the A minor Concerto and the airier quality of its E major counterpart.

As for St John, she makes the most ordinary passages come to life. Listen to the brief, ascending sequence beginning at 2’ 27” in the first movement of the A minor Concerto, which she grips so tightly, the pressure can be felt in one’s chest. She can be charming as well as intense. Her playing of the E major Concerto’s finale, for example, is joyous and balletic - a far cry from Kennedy’s jagged account. Ballet also comes to mind in the opening movement of the Double Concerto, as St John and her brother Scott bound through the intricately entwined solo parts like dancers leaping in and out of each other’s arms. The sublime Largo is transformed into a lilting Siciliano - open-hearted and ecstatic rather than hushed and reverential.

Filling out the disc, St John gives a provocative performance of the G minor solo Sonata. Some listeners may be taken aback by the expressive edginess she brings to the opening Adagio, or by by the slashing chords in the fugue, but it is difficult to argue with such a technically dazzling and unfailingly musical interpretation.

Strongly recommended, then, despite the album’s distasteful artwork. Although St John does not pose nude here - as she did for for a previous album, with only a violin for cover - her posture is suggestive. And the booklet folds out into a poster-size pinup in which she appears wearing heavy lipstick and exhaling a lazy curl of cigarette smoke. Given her exceptional talent, St John has no need to engage in such ignoble marketing ploys, Her playing speaks for itself.

Gramophone February 2002