I am sure at some point or another you have mumbled in frustration to yourself the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself!” In recent years, a number of classical musicians and orchestras have turned their mumbling frustrations into bold actions of independence by eschewing the traditional corporate world of recording contracts and founding their own private indie labels. In the United States alone, such major orchestras as the Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco Symphonies have created their own house labels to record albums and digital downloads featuring their own artistic choices and calendar schedules. The same can be said for such solo artists as violinist Gil Shaham and his Canary Classics label, cellist Matt Haimovitz and his Oxingale label, as well as violinist Lara St. John and her Ancalagon label, named for her ubiquitous pet iguana, who in turn was named for the Middle-Earth Black dragon from J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels.
Lara St. John. The tall, beautiful, enormously talented violinist with the lovable eccentric personality seems to have more fun with music than musicians are normally allowed to have! I believe that is because she not only promotes herself, but also takes great pride in using her resources to promote fellow artists through her label. Among other projects, to date she has produced two albums for The Knights, a New York City-based chamber orchestra, as well as a pair of delightfully off-beat cross-over albums with the ensemble Polkastra.
Lara’s latest project involved traveling to Berlin in April of 2013 to record an album of Schubert works in arrangements to spotlight Berlin Philharmonic principals, harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet and cellist Ludwig Quandt, as well as Berlin Opera soprano Anna Prohaska. With Ms. Langlamet in the lead, all four of these brilliant musicians make Schubert shine bright in selections including three lieder from the cycle, “Songs of the Harper,” as well as the famous song, “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) arranged for soprano and harp; the Sonatina in D, Op. 137, arranged for violin and harp; three of the Op. 90 Impromptus, arranged for solo harp; the popular “Arpeggione” Sonata, arranged for cello and harp; and last but certainly not least (as all these performances are equal in stature to my ears) is the compact Piano Trio in Bb, commonly known as “Sonatansatz” (Sonata movement), arranged for violin, cello and harp. I mention each and every selection on this Schubert album because, after repeated listenings, I have found each and every selection and performance to contain intricate detailing of not only Schubert’s personality, but the musicians also successfully imbed their own unique voices to naturally meld themselves into Schubert’s world. The smile on my face broadens with each listening until it hurts and I must stop the music in order to recover my senses! Yes, I may be exaggerating a bit. But, these consummate artists do not. They are spot on in doing right by Schubert. And Lara St. John and Company have certainly done it right!