February 1998

Lara St. John - Gypsy
Well Tempered Productions WTP 5185
Released: 1997
HDCD Encoding

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Gypsies.... The race evokes fabled visions of fortune-tellers, thieves, nomads, magicians and beggars. And, oh yes, musicians! Above all, musicians. Wonderful, spirited, entertaining people who would perform in the streets with reckless abandon for whatever the crowd was willing to give. Gypsies are descendants of low caste Indian tribes, called Asura, Ghasiya, and Luri. Among the Luri, it is in the Dom people we find the source of thefabulous musical genius of the gypsy race. As early as the sixth century, historians refer to the Dom as gandharva--musical. The word doma comes from the Sanskrit dom (to resound) and is ascribed to the people who lived by singing and making music--the gypsies. This recording is a celebration of the wonderful music that these magical people have inspired.

Lara St.John is a fabulous Canadian violin player. Her debut CD, Bach Works For Violin Solo, received much critical acclaim, ("Superb, exquisite, glorious, stunning, definitive"), from the likes of Billboard magazine, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, WCRB Grammophone Radio Listening Guide and The J.S. Bach Home Page. This is one great (and great looking, for you gentlemen out there) fiddle player! Ms. St. John has got to have the most provocative album covers in the entire classical music catalog.

The recording on this CD is world-class and of audiophile quality. Throughout the CD, the music is well balanced, with the instruments taking on a life-size proportions. Ms. St. John's swaying to and fro as she injects her violin with passion and emotion is perceptible in my listening room. The acoustics of the recording venue are outstanding. The notes of both the violin and piano decay with patience. There is absolutely no edginess to this recording; it is smooth and well extended.

The notes in the insert are replete with references to MIT, WireWorld, Neuman and Didrik DeGeer mics, the Pacific Microsonics HDCD 24-bit analog-to-digital converter, and a thorough description of the 24-bit audio workstation with 56-bit internal digital signal processing used during the performance.Whew! But there's more. Page 11 of the notes is entirely dedicated to a technical dissertation on the intricacies of the HDCD encoding process and how the HDCD decoder chip even improves the sound of standard, non-HDCD recordings. Personally, I prefer looking at the picture of Ms. St.John on page 9 while enjoying her rendition of "Ziguenerweisen" through my Western Electric 300Bs!

The selections on this CD are, for the most part, familiar classical compositions. On "Carmen" Fantasie (Franz Waxman), and Variations on Dark Eyes (Ilan Rechtman), tracks one and two respectively, Ms. St. John's violin sings and cries with so much feeling that I sat fixated, listening to each note as it gently lingered in the air of the recording venue long past the moment at which it was played. Track seven, Ravel's Tzigane, is as exquisitely performed as track nine, Czardas Caprice (Ilan Rechtman). Both of these pieces are full of the gypsy spirit. Throughout this recording pianist/composer Ilan Rechtmen accompanies Ms. St. John with a beautiful, sensitive and complimentary piano.

If you are a lover of beautiful violin works for the emotion they stir in the spirit, or if you are simply an aficionado of well-performed gypsy music, or even if you are an audiophile and collect great recordings, even if you just like to buy music with provocative pictures of great looking women on the cover--this one is for you!