The collaboration between violinist Lara St. John and pianist Matt Herskowitz is obviously not new. They are now touring in support of their new CD “Shiksa,” a collection of interesting contemporary arrangements of Eastern European folk material. And Herskowitz, mostly active as a jazz pianist, also has the chops and stylistic awareness to play Ravel.
But Saturday night at Maverick Concerts’ Yamaha grand, Herskowitz played much of the time as though he were unaware of St. John’s presence. Their performances were otherwise quite interesting and involving. The way St. John played the “Blues” movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata, for example, was very bluesy indeed, with lots of portamento which made the music sound even jazzier than usual. But much too often during this piece she was badly overbalanced by Herskowitz, whose sound wasn’t harsh but whose volume level was simply much too high.
The imbalance got even worse during a couple of Herskowitz’s arrangements of Gershwin songs (in a style I’d describe as elevated cocktail jazz). In all honesty, there were some moments when I had to look carefully at the stage to make sure the violinist was playing, because I couldn’t hear her at all.
It was a real pity. This could have been a particularly entertaining and memorable evening. Martin Kennedy’s mashup of czardas and Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody (amusingly titled Czardashian Rhapsody) was a blast. Arrangements of material from Palestine (by John Kameel Farah), Macdonia (Milica Paranosic), and Armenia (Serouj Kradjian), were all involving, and Herskowitz’s Nagilara (“Hava Nagila” for Lara), was cute in the best sense. Sometimes Herskowitz played appropriately for a collaboration, as through most of the Paranosic. Too often he didn’t. In Ravel’s Tzigane, which concluded the program, we got to hear St. John unaccompanied for more than two minutes, as Ravel wrote the piece, demonstrating her freedom and gypsy chops. But once Herskowitz came in, hearing the violin became problematic to impossible.
Balance on the CD is better but there’s audio evidence of engineer interference to improve matters. Somebody has got to tell these otherwise fine musicians that they’re seriously out of balance. Maybe this will do it.