Can classical music performance be controversial? Most often, this is true only when a performance departs from contemporary (or not-so-contemporary) conventional wisdom, which often relies on both a uniform and blinding reverence to how "things ought to be." Every composer who ever put pen to parchment may have designated a specific instrument in a given piece, but that does not preclude the possibility of a different instrument playing that same piece. In fact, this is exactly how the composers of the 17th and 18th centuries did things: they wrote music from which they could get mileage. For example, Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the chief architects of this practice, loved to transpose his and others' music to be played. His spiritual buddy, George Frederick Handel, was the same way, shamelessly borrowing from himself and others to provide music that could be shared.
Violinist Lara St. John and Berlin Philharmonic harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet have done no less in their recital of Bach ensemble pieces for violin and flute with harpsichord accompaniment. This project was borne by St. John's desire to simplify the harmonic support, distilling it, as it were, to an essence...the essence of Bach. The harp is a perfect foil for her crisp interpretation of Bach and Langlamet fully fits the bill as its driver. This prepares Bach for the parlor, that time-tested tradition of intimate performance among close friends. St. John's Bach bona fides are beyond question, with her earliest recordings culminating in the triumphant Bach: The Six Sonatas & Partitas for Violin Solo (2007), the first release on her own eclectic label, Ancalagon.
While equally informed, this incarnation of Bach is decidedly different from St. John's sparks-throwing early days. Here is a measured, fully mature Bach, played with a loving and tempered Romantic flair. This is most evident on the slower sections, like the "Adagio ma non tanto" of Sonata No. 3 in E Major for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1016, where St. John effects a more mellow and round tone, one well suited to the quiet majesty of Langlamet's warm and secure harp.
The interpretation of the three sonatas for flute and harpsichord are most revealing. The two adopted instruments meld well with the harmony and melody, time and temperature of the original intent. These are amazingly cool performances in temperament that generate warmth as the two instruments unite synergistically. On Bach Sonata, St. John finds a musical soul mate and continues to cultivate her unique approach to making old music new again.
Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Keyboard in B minor, BWV 1014: I. Adagio;
II. Allegro, III Andante, IV Allegro; Sonata No. 3 for Violin and
Keyboard in E major, BWV 1016: I. Adagio, II. Allegro, III. Adagio ma
non tanto, IV. Allegro; Sonata for Violin and Keyboard in G minor, BWV
1020: I. Allegro, II. Adagio, III. Allegro; Sonata for Flute and
Keyboard in B minor, BWV 1030: I. Andante, II. Largo e dolce, III.
Presto; Sonata for Flute and Keyboard in B minor, BWV 1030: IV.
Lara St. John: violin; Marie-Pierre Langlamet: harp.