The international group Polkastra is the brainchild of one Lara St. John. Yes, that Lara St. Johnthe Bach enfant terrible of the mid-1990s who evolved to record a definitive set of The Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin inagurating her own Ancalagon label in 2007 , followed by notable recordings of Hindson, Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach Chamber Music. In 2009, St. John's side project, Polkastra, released its debut recording, Apolkalypse Now on the violinist's label. That recording revealed a collectively-honed bridge of talent possessing a keen and wicked sense of humor. In that combination of elements, the group gave vital life to music old and new with a wink and a smile.
Polkastra returns with a more highly focused and charged follow up in "I Do" The Wedding Album, an audio film of the happiest day in most couples' lives presented in three descriptive parts: The Ceremony, The Party and The End of the Night. The Ceremony opens with Jeremiah Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary in the guise of the brief introductory, "Flumpet Voluntary" arranged by Matt Van Brink and kicked off with fanfare by Mark Timmerman's bassoon. Following is Richard Wagner's familiar march introducing the bride as if played by a Yiddish NOLA jazz band at a country hoedown, including Rossini's William Tell overture morphing back into a Wagner strip tease. Fun was had by all. The "J.S. Bachelor Party" mashes up Bach's greatest hits, deftly directed through the Land of the Sirens by Valkyrie St. John's sure fiddle, ending with "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." This would be the section highlight were it not for a relatively straight and beautiful "Ave Maria" sung by "bride" (and guest) Isabel Bayrakdarian and a newgrass performance of Pachelbel's "Canon in D, Mostly."
Mendelssohn's "Shotgun Wedding March" concludes The Ceremony portion as if performed in Częstochowa on the Feast Day of the Black Madonna. Dan Lapp's frumpet, buoyed by St. John's mad fiddling and Timmerman's continuo bassoon, leads the celebration to its logically affirmative end preparing us for the party. Things turn serious for a moment in The Party section where, in "The Celtic Wedding Medley," St. John demonstrates both grace and sensitivity in her playing of these folk melodies. With a powerfully liquid and muscular tone, St. John could overpower such delicacy by avoids doing so with her perfect taste and insight. It is sublime like some sacred pagan dance music St. Patrick should have whistled leading the snakes into the Everglades, as it were. Or not.
Back to the fun with "The Kosher Chicken Dance" with Lapp and St. John throwing mid-register sparks on the wedding party like mercury sparks over a nuclear oompah established by Timmerman. This music exudes a sheer joy of creativity that is a sure celebration of the day. The French waltz "Le Jardin d'Amour" sways with the boozy wheeze of Ronn Yedidia's accordion, while guest clarinetist David Krakauer interpolates some Jimmy Giuffre-free blowing into the Yiddish rave-up, "Fun der Khupe," while Lapp's mandolin spins an almost Spanish veil for "O Sole Mio." The Party is closed appropriately with the tango, "Por Una Cabeza." The End of the Night section is brief, closing with a lazy "Fourth Street Drag" and the Donaldson/Kahn ditty, "My Buddy," sounding decidedly Hot Club, circa 1928.
"I Do" The Wedding Album benefited from the raging triumvirate of sharp talent, a sharper sense of humor and the sharpest of themes. It is likely that this will be the finest recording of its kind (whatever that blissfully is) this year.
The Ceremony: Frumpet Voluntary; Bridle Chorus; J.S. Bachelor Party;
.Ave Maria; Canon in D, Mostly; Salut d’ Amour; Shotgun Wedding March.
The Party: Celtic Wedding Medley; Kosher Chicken Dance; Le Jardin d’
Amour; Fun der Khupe; O Sole Mio; Napoloni; Por Una Cabeza. End of the
Night: 4th Street Drag; My Buddy.
Daniel Lapp: flumpet, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, harmonica, stride
piano, bass; Lara St. John: violin, arrangements; Michael Atkinson:
horn, arrangements; Ronn Yedidia: accordion, piano, arrangements; Mark
Timmerman: contrabassoon, bassoon; Yuval Edoot: percussion; jack
Campbell: electric bass; Isabel Bayrakdarian: soprano; David Krakauer:
clarinet; Toronto Children’s Chorus.
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