J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Works for Violin Solo

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Lara St.John
Individual Works:Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Sonata No 3 in C major, BWV 1005
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Well-Tempered Productions
Catalog Number:WTP 5180
Year Released/Recorded:1996
Total Playing Time:55:04"
Related Web Site:http://www.larastjohn.com/
Comments:Review by Jan Hanford:

This recording is a milestone. Her astonishing world-class performance is one of the most expressive and beautiful I've heard. She has achieved a level of elegance and sensitivity that is rare and exciting. As one would expect from a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music, her intonation and technique are flawless. But she also brings a great deal of herself to these works; the emotion communicated through her performance is contagious. While she does make these works personal, she does not over-interpret them to create a conflict with the score She presents a lovely balance of personal expression and historical accuracy with a light touch and lots of energy.

The cd was recorded at the Scoring Stage at Skywalker Sound of Lucas Digital Services using the High Definition Digital process. The sound is perfectly clear and the use of a slight room ambience adds to the realism. She is literally standing in front of you presenting these beautiful works of Bach.

And my usual pet peeve: The booklet tells us all about Ms. St. John's qualifications and the state-of-the-art recording process but nothing about the works themselves. For the Bach novice and connoisseur alike, it's always nice to have some background on the music as well as the artist.

This is Bach as he was meant to be heard: full of life and passion. At this point in time (1997) , I had consider this to be the definitive recording of these works. But she has not recorded the remaining works so, while I highly recommend her cd, I can't consider it my favorite because it is incomplete.

The Serious Listener said:

The Bach Works Collector's Item.

Lara St. John's debut album Bach Works for Solo Violin is an interesting study in what to and what not to do while making an album. Lara was Canadian child prodigy who has not only grown up to become very seasoned, savvy and serious player, but is climbing to be among the big league professionals by releasing an album who's cover depicts a very attractive and nude Lara St. John holding a violin over her breasts. The cover has gained added notoriety because St. John appears to be a young teenager, although she was actually 24 when photographed.

An eye-catching album cover is exactly what a newcomer needs: to gain attention in a tiny field that is abundant with talent. Only those with the intrinsic value to differentiate themselves from the rest will go on to record a second. St. John knows this is not only a matter of the talented, but also who is more marketable. That was not intended to be a slam, rather acknowledging good business. Regardless of what artistic interpretations may arise like 'nothing between her and her music', or the 'intimate one on one relationship between the soloist and instrument', the fact remains: SEX SELLS, and St. John is a very attractive young lady.

The pamphlet behind the cover is interesting also. Instead of the usual abbreviated spiel about the composer, it has some fascinating quotes against some of the featured pieces. It's a creative idea that fails with some readers except the very experienced who actually know what the pamphlet is talking about. I'm not saying the literature should "Dumb down", but, St. John once said, "If it takes nudity to get people my age to listen to Bach, then so be it". Well if Ms. St. John wants people her age to listen to Bach (I'm all for that!), then approach them so. My suggestion would be, add a little something to acquaint the new listeners. Again, it is a creative and artistic approach, but for the layman, there needs to be something more.

Everyone has their pet peeves, this is mine: the end result of any product is to offer the consumer a quality item of sufficient value that most customers will perceive personal satisfaction. Bach Works contains 55 minutes of music on a CD capable of over 75 minutes. A debut artist should be filling the CD to the brim, or at least less than a blank 20 minutes. St. John's album was a hit - as far as classical CDs are concerned, to the point that Sony Classical saw the opening and released Hillary Hahn's Bach performance, this time, filling the CD with a recording that was previously sitting "in the can" for two years. I am very happy for Miss Hahn, but the point is, the promoters for St. John should have been more aligned to the consumer.

Here is the tragedy of the album. Among the very competently played works are the renowned Ciaccona and the majestic fugue from the C major sonata. Lara St. John pulls off a performance easily worthy of Grammy stature, which will go for naught because of minor flaws. The Ciaccona and fugue are tremendously demanding both artistically and physically. As St. John enervates, she maintains the score splendidly but she shuffles her feet below her, which is picked up by the microphones. With superb playback equipment you can hear little steps and thuds (mostly to the left side), or use a good set of headphones, they too reveal what I'm describing. Are these flaws really that awful? Certainly not, most people will not notice these tiny imperfections unless someone (like me) points them out. St. John's presentation as a musician is marvelous. One of the attributes I look for in a recording is listener fatigue. I experience little fatigue here, mainly because not only is St. John capable of intense violin gymnastics, she does it with delicate artistry also. This is expected, since she was Canada's Grand National Champion in her instrument, and the youngest graduate ever from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.

Music Reviewer Jan Hanford says this album is a milestone. I say this album is a collector's item. It contains all the pointers of a rare coin; the artist's debut; noteworthy performance; subtle mistakes; scandalous controversy; an entire range of events that have gone right and wrong - but is still, most importantly - a pleasurable recording.

Lara St. John has a web page at http://www.larastjohn.com where she discusses the subject of intonation and how she constantly strives for a high degree of perfection in that regard. My observation of St. John's intonation goes far beyond mere pitch, it includes her personal interpretation with these works also. She realizes what the note should sound like, more importantly what it should feel like, regardless of what other "old world purists" may think. I place heavy emphasis on the Ciaccona; it is one benchmark of a violinist's greatness. The Ciaccona is St. John's monument. Other pieces may be performed better by others, but not the Ciaccona. Finally, it is because of her skills and mature understanding of intonation, not her appearance, which makes Lara St. John . . . absolutely beautiful.

David Perrine said:

Beautiful playing. Very dramtic with lots of contrast. Sonically it has a "hyped" character with an edgey treble.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • The Serious Listener
  • David Perrine
From the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:05/23/1997