Must-Have New Release: Lara St. John’s Schubert

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 SchubertLara 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!

Not only do I recommend this album, but I would say that you would also have a delightful journey in collecting all of Lara St. John’s albums.

New Release: Schubert – String Quintet

There are times, sadly, that the depth of genius is not recognized until long after the person containing such genius has passed from the Earth. One of the most blatant examples of such myopia in the classical music world was the neglect of Franz Schubert, not only during his lifetime but also for decades after his death. Today, in extreme hindsight, it seems unfathomable that early 19th century musicians, publishers and, therefore, the public were simply oblivious to the scope of Schubert’s talent. Maybe all he needed was a better marketing plan!

Schubert String QuintetWell, these days there are plenty of musicians and classical music lovers who realize the scope of Schubert’s genius and his music seems now to market itself. But, Schubert still needs talented musicians to bring his music to life. It is our good fortune that the Avie label of London has chosen in recent years to be the distributor of the recordings of one of the most brilliant ensembles in America, the Cypress String Quartet, formed in San Francisco in 1996.

The CSQ’s latest recording is of the final chamber work by Schubert, one of his most recognizable masterpieces, the String Quintet, scored for two violins, viola and two cellos. The CSQ is comprised of American musicians trained on both sides of the Atlantic: violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel. But, what about the additional cellist needed for the Quintet? No less a guest artist to this Schubert soirée is Gary Hoffman, one of the world’s leading cellists. With the usual precision and sensitivity of the CSQ combined with the additional mastery of Mr. Hoffman, this latest recording of the Schubert Quintet surely ranks with one of the best of the modern interpretations currently available on record.

Whether listening in the car, in your den or maybe even while taking a soothing therapeutic bath, the Schubert Quintet with the Cypress String Quartet and cellist Gary Hoffman reminds us again why Schubert is truly one of the great musical geniuses of all-time. I am sure this recording will transport you to a place of peace amidst the din of an insane world!

Ted Weiner is a WDAV veteran. This San Francisco Bay Area native has been on the WDAV airwaves since November 1986 when he arrived in Charlotte from New York City and began working as a weekend and all-round fill-in announcer. He became Music Director in 1991 and has been maintaining the WDAV recording library and choosing much of the music we hear ever since. Night owls and early birds can hear Ted Weiner on WDAV from midnight until 5 each morning on WDAV’s Early Shift on 89.9fm or online.