CD Review Lara goes Australian

By Lawrence A. Johnson

41zu--R0wHL._SX355_Hindson: Violin Concerto; Corigliano: Suite from The Red Violin; Liszt/Kennedy-St. John: Totentanz.

Lara St. John
Sarah Ioannides/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Ancalagon)

With her latest CD, Lara St. John serves up the premiere of a fascinating new concerto in an envelope-pushing program that marks the Canadian fiddler’s finest recording since her debut Bach disc. Though cast in the traditional three movements, Matthew Hindson’s Violin Concerto is anything but conventional, with youthful, brilliant, often idiosyncratic music that reflects the rugged spirit of the composer’s native Australia.

The ecologically minded first section, Wind Turbine at Kooragang Island, takes its inspiration from the title massive windmill-powered generator. The mechanical turbine sounds are unmistakable and the solo violin’s jaggedly virtuosic flights and soaring leaps alternate with sections of lyrical repose. Hindson ratchets up the piston-driving clamor in nine minutes that mix Minimalist churning, beast-like brass lowing and triumphant solo writing against quasi-satiric silver screen fanfares.

Westerway is a working-class Tasmanian village and the central movement reflects the economically depressed rural milieu with the hope of better things to come. The astringent lyricism and searching melancholy are sensitively conveyed by St. John, with a more aggressive contrasting middle section and lovely wind writing at the reprise of the A material.

The Australian fondness for roughhouse sport and elbows-out revelry are vividly painted in the closing movement, Grand Final Day. This must be one of the most uninhibited concerto movements of recent years, as Hindson’s wild ride veers from hard-driving Minimalist riffs, brassy jazz-accented Broadway, and, for some reason, ironic brassy quotes from Carmen. The concerto culminates in an expansive chorale-like theme and increasingly flame-throwing violin bursts, rounded off in a final virtuosic blast from soloist and orchestra.

Even without the picaresque national program, Hindson’s Violin Concerto is a brilliant, quirky and personality-plus work, one perfectly suited to the flamboyant St. John, who, predictably, plays the hell out of the piece. Conductor Sarah Ioannides and the Royal Phiharmonic Orchestra are equally fiery, fully committed partners.

The couplings are on the same high level. In its various guises, John Corigliano’s music from The Red Violin is becoming standard fiddle repertoire, and St. John shows herself in synch with the score’s elegant nostalgia and rhapsodic yearning. The ingenious retooling of Liszt’s Totentanz by Martin Kennedy and St. John works surprisingly well, cleverly transferring Liszt’s keyboard diablerie to the violin, an even more Mephistophelean instrument.

Spectacular recording on St. John’s own Ancalagon label (named for her departed pet iguana) with lavishly illustrated tri-fold booklet and comprehensive notes. Check out the violinist’s entertaining website to hear excerpts of the Hindson Concerto and to purchase the CD.

Posted in CD/DVD

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Fri Jul 4, 2008
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