Lara St. John

Bach: The Six Sonatas & Partitas for Violin Solo

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Bach: The Six Sonatas & Partitas for Violin Solo Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Canadian violinist Lara St. John has worked on both sides of recording industry, recording both for West Coast indie Well Tempered Productions and for major-label monolith Sony Classical. Increasingly it has been her desire to take control of her own destiny in terms of recordings; even as St. John's concert career has flourished and her repertoire has expanded, the recording activity has been spotty, only partly reflecting her varied interests. Although St. John initially launched her Ancalagon label, named after a favored pet iguana, in 2001, with the 2007 release Bach: The Six Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, St. John is taking on a truly ambitious recording project; Bach's violin solo literature presented on two Surround Sound Super Audio CDs in deluxe, full color digipak. For St. John, going back to Bach is also back to the basics; it was with a Well Tempered disc of Bach's solo violin music that she made her entrée into the public forum back in 1996. That release was an intensely emotional and revelatory experience, analogous to Glenn Gould's 1955 Columbia recording of the Goldberg Variations; not because she was also young and Canadian, but because St. John's interpretations of Bach's solo violin music are completely her own, informed by her unique sense of rhythm and expressiveness. She does not play Bach's violin music like Heifetz or Szeryng did, nor is she attempting to find some semblance of "historical correctness" in the music, nor is her Bach romantic in tone. St. John's Bach has strong personal flair and a sense of dramatic sweep, as though she were an actress playing a role rather than a musician with an instrument; it is variable in tone, broadly expansive rhythmically and dazzling technically. St. John's Bach is also, in a word or two, breathtakingly beautiful.

The 1996 disc was rather stingy in that it only contained one sonata and one partita -- always leave them wanting more, as they say, but St. John has decided that this is the time for "more," and it's a good call. Her Bach playing in 2007 in comparison to 1996 has grown up some; certain passages are a little smoother, a bit more connected together than in 1996, and the ebb and flow of dynamics more carefully plotted, though the performances do not seem to lose any of their spontaneity. They are just more refined and, in some ways, targeted more directly to the heart of the matter. The recording, made at Skywalker Sound under the expert supervision of Martha de Francisco, is wonderfully alive and three-dimensional; if you think recording in Surround Sound would not benefit the sound of a single violin, this will change your mind. Devotees of St. John's performances in concert will certainly want Ancalagon's Bach: The Six Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo; even if you already own a copy of the earlier effort, you should also have this -- Mies van der Rohe's famous dictum notwithstanding, in this instance, less is definitely not more.

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