Bach: Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041; Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042; Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043; Sonata for Solo Violin in G minor, BWV 1001

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041; Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042; Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043; Sonata for Solo Violin in G minor, BWV 1001
PERFORMER: Lara St John, Scott St John (violin); New York Bach Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: AV 0007
Lara St John caused a rumpus when she posed topless for the cover of her first CD, prompting a few US record stores and radio stations to ban the disc. This time she’s (just about) kept her clothes on, but – one step forward, two steps back – appears on the fold-out poster exhaling cigarette smoke in grainy soft-focus, as if flirting with lung cancer were the epitome of cool. Though she looks barely 16 and too young to know better, she’s actually 31 and should.

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An ex-child prodigy (she has played the violin since the age of two according to her web site) her technique is faultless and she can play at dazzling speed. She performs the Bach concertos with refreshing panache, the outer movements fleet yet assured, her quicksilver fluidity matched by a subtle touch. She’s less convincing in the slow movements, especially the A minor Andante, where she resorts to extrovert Romantic gesture rather than exploring the music’s gentler, more reflective possibilities. She’s spoken of the eroticism she hears in Bach’s music, yet her version of the Double Concerto Largo – surely the sexiest piece in the classical repertoire – is oddly demure and melancholic, more tragic parting than tender entwining.

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For all her brio, St John’s enjoyable performances lack the profound feeling and imaginative grasp of players like Andrew Manze and Ryo Terakado. The latter, treating the concertos as chamber works, weaves intimate magic with Bach Collegium Japan (BIS); but, for his wonderful blend of infectious vivacity and adroit lyricism, Manze’s 1996 recording remains the absolute benchmark. Graham Lock