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Lara St. John performs with Bach Festival Society

Lara St. John
Lara St. John
Martin Kennedy

Lara St. John performs with Bach Festival Society

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The 79th annual Bach Festival continued this weekend with two “Concertos by Candlelight” performances at Knowles Memorial Chapel.

Canadian violinist Lara St. John performed two well-known Bach concertos with controlled self-assurance. She blended in well with the orchestra in the first movements of both the A minor and E major concertos, exchanging phrases with the ensemble and dazzling with Bach’s elegant solo lines that emerge once the mood has been established.

Conductor John Sinclair handled well the dynamic shifts for the ritornello themes that hinge their respective movements together. The slow second movement of the A minor was the most heartfelt and poised moment. From a slower, rather reflective pace and a thinner accompaniment from the ensemble, St. John’s meditative song-like violin lines emerged and resonated warmly in the candlelit chapel.

Although the E major concerto is a bit more elaborate and demanding, it is not significantly different from the aforementioned, still adhering to the fast-slow-fast formula and similar forms for each movement. The second one, however, is supported by a repeating bass line that establishes the harmony. It provides the frame for the solo lines and, like in the first concerto, St. John sounded particularly well in this more stripped-down setting that the score dictates.

Something of a novelty was Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto in E minor. The low-register double-reed member of the oboe family doesn’t get the spotlight very often in the standard repertoire, so it was interesting to see the instrument being brought to the foreground. Soloist Ashley Heintzen, professor of bassoon at Stetson University, is a superbly adept performer and handled her parts smoothly. She really succeeded in projecting clearly the quasi-comical timbre of the instrument, enunciating the lines with precision, giving them enough attention not to muddy the heavy succession of bass-clef notes.

For the selections from Vivaldi’s Nulla in mundo pax sincera, soprano Julie Batman, from Rollins College, projected a warm tone. Particularly well executed were the flowery melismatic decorations, in which she alternated between two or more notes in the same syllable of text. It was an effective contrast to the low parts of the bassoon concerto, although Vivaldi’s harmonies and general molds repeat often in his output.

In general, this was a pleasing exhibition of Baroque music, complemented by the first movement of C.P.E. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D minor – Joanne Kong was the soloist – and excerpts from Vivaldi’s Magnificat, in which the Bach Festival Youth Choir was given the spotlight.

A downside to the performance of the A minor concerto on Saturday was mindless, untimely clapping between movements: Sinclair had to wait a few seconds for the crowd to settle down before signaling in the second movement, and it just sounded dead wrong and intrusive, quite noticeably, between the second and third. Perhaps printing the tempo markings of each movement in the program might prevent this, one would hope, in future performances.

The 79th annual Bach Festival continues next weekend with Haydn’s The Creation, on Saturday, and Bach’s St. John Passion, on Sunday.

To visit Lara St. John’s website, click here.

To read more about the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, and learn about upcoming performances, click here.

To read a review of a recent performance by the Bach Festival of music by Morten Lauridsen, click here.