Steven Staryk—A Retrospective: Volume 1
Steven Staryk (vn);
Bernard Haitink, cond; Royal Concertgebouw O; John Avison, cond; CBC Vancouver CO;
Douglas Gamley, cond; London Festival O;
Andrew Davis, cond; Toronto SO;
Herman Michael, cond; North German RS
CENTAUR 3186-7, mono/stereo (2 CDs: 144:02) Live: Hamburg 1/1969
, Amsterdam 9/18/1961
, Vancouver 1972
Violin Concerto No. 1
Violin Concerto No. 5,
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Violin Concerto No. 1
Steven Staryk—A Retrospective: Volume 2
Steven Staryk (vn);
Jane Corwin (pn);
Members of the Royal Concertgebouw O;
Raymond Parnell, pn;
Lisa Bergman, pn;
Adela Kotowska, pn;
CBC Vancouver Studio O;
Robin Wood, pn;
Douglas Gamley, cond; London Festival O;
Robert Linzon, pn;
Laurent Philippe, pn;
Primas Stefan & his Royal Tziganes
CENTAUR 3203, mono/stereo (71:58)
Liebesleid. Liebesfreud. Schön Rosmarin. Gypsy Caprice. Tambourin Chinois. Caprice Viennois
Chanson Triste. None But the Lonely Heart.
Pe Loc and Buciumeana
Violin Concerto No. 2:
Pièce en forme d’Habanera
Violin Concerto 2nd mvmt
Steven Staryk—A Retrospective: Volume 3
Steven Staryk (vn, cond);
Bernard Haitink (cond);
Royal Concertgebouw O;
Vancouver Baroque O;
Kenneth Gilbert (hpd)
CENTAUR 3211 (72:34)
Violin Concertos: No. 1 in a;
No 2 in E.
BWV 1023 and 1020
. Violin Partita No. 2
Steven Staryk—A Retrospective: Volume 4
Steven Staryk (vn); Mario Bernardi (pn); Bernard Haitink, cond; Royal Concertgebouw O
CENTAUR 3222, mono/stereo (69:26) Live:
Violin Concerto No. 1.
Violin Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2
Steven Staryk—A Retrospective: Volume 5
Steven Staryk (vn);
Mario Bernardi, cond; Natl Arts Centre O;
Thomas Beecham, cond; Royal PO;
Alexander Schneider, cond; Mainly Mozart O;
Jean Deslauriers, cond; CBC Montreal O;
Jaime Weisenblum, violin; Rivka Golani-Erdesz, John Mair, va; Peter Schenkman, vc;
Oscar Shumsky, va; David Miller, cond; Mainly Mozart O
CENTAUR 3223, mono (75:06) Live: London 12/1958
, Toronto 1980
, Montreal 1975
, Toronto 1981
Violin Concerto No. 3:
Adagio in E,
Rondo in C,
Quintet in g,
Sinfonia Concertante in E♭,
Steven Staryk—A Retrospective: Volume 6
Steven Staryk (vn); John Perry (pn)
CENTAUR 3224, mono (65:15) Live:
Oberlin ca. 1969-70
Violin Sonata No. 9,
Violin Sonata No. 1
One of my most distinguished predecessors at
, George Jellinek, said of Steven Staryk, “I have such a high opinion of your playing that it would pain me to no end if artistry of such caliber would not have the recognition it deserves.” On the occasion of Centaur releasing this six CD retrospective of Staryk’s career, I wish I could summon George Jellinek’s ghost to do justice in describing it. The very best of the items on these CDs rank among the greatest violin recordings in existence. What makes Steven Staryk so special? First of all there is his technique, which at its best may be compared to Perlman, Ricci, and Milstein’s. I hesitate to compare Staryk to Heifetz; however one feels about Heifetz’s sound, I have no doubt that his technique was something perfect unto itself. Staryk’s tone is simply remarkable. It is radiant, with a feeling of sinew subsumed in its glorious texture. Staryk has no weaknesses. You simply are amazed that a man can draw such a tone from an inanimate object; the sound seems to possess a life of its own. All this would amount to nothing were it not matched by Staryk’s musicianship. He exhibits a musicality marked by a laser like precision of meaning. At any point in a phrase, you know exactly what Staryk’s intent is. Somehow, had the composer played the violin, you feel he would want to sound like Steven Staryk, so close is the identification between creator and soloist. The present retrospective is the nearest thing I know to discovering music all over again. In a nutshell, Steven Staryk is a phenomenon.
Volume 1 opens with an unbelievable live account of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto. It surpasses the studio versions of Francescatti, Menuhin, and Perlman. Indeed, the only Paganini recording I know of in this league is Ossy Renardy’s first rendition of the caprices. Staryk sees the concerto as a totally serious work, not a sequence of good tunes embellished with a bag of tricks. His viewpoint, though operatic, never loses a sense of proportion. In the first movement, the cantabile sections are infused with pathos. The evenness of Staryk’s attacks is remarkable. His double-stops are filled with color and beautiful intonation. In the slow movement, Staryk engages in a variety of articulations and shadings unknown to almost any other violinist. The orchestral tuttis are trimmed somewhat in the last movement, but not awkwardly. Here the solo part suggests a supernatural dance in which the dancers never touch the ground. Staryk’s tone is refulgent with the light of the sunny South. If you want to understand the astonishment Paganini caused in his lifetime, you have to hear this performance.
We are very fortunate to have Staryk’s account of the Beethoven Concerto partnered by a great orchestra and conductor, the Royal Concertgebouw under Bernard Haitink, despite the slightly dicey condition of the source material for this remastering. If you are familiar with Haitink’s rather sedate accompaniment for Henryk Szeryng on their studio recording of the concerto, you may be surprised by the passion he supplies for Staryk. Conductor Jaap van Zweden, a former Concertgebouw concertmaster, has spoken about “the magic of Bernard.” It is fully in evidence here. The orchestra’s winds in particular are exceptional. Staryk at age 29 plays with a youthful spirit but plenty of sensitivity. He draws from his Stradivarius a wealth of rich tone in the first movement. He never makes an edgy attack. His performance of the Fritz Kreisler cadenza evinces a cornucopia of tonal possibilities for the violin. Staryk and Haitink turn the
into a continuous aria. Staryk phrases here with a delicacy way beyond his years, offering passages that are almost avian-like in their naturalness and expressiveness. In the last movement, Staryk adopts a pose of relaxation and ease, making light of all the technical challenges, even in the cadenza and coda. It would be instructive to have a more recent performance of the concerto made available, yet this 1961 concert account is a major accomplishment.
CD 2 of Volume 1 begins with a forceful and assertive version of Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto, executed with jewel-like clarity. Staryk’s Mozart is not shy and retiring. It sounds like no one else’s. The first movement is filled with a controlled passion. It is muscular without being ungainly. Staryk’s
manages to be both strong and tender. The concluding Rondo possesses an elfin quality, while the Turkish music is performed with great zest. Camille Saint-Saëns’s
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
, despite an iffy recording, displays a decorative poise and supreme ease. In Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, Staryk often equals the premiere recording by Oistrakh and Mitropoulos, although Staryk always is his own man. Never has a violinist more completely portrayed suffering than in the opening Nocturne. Staryk captures the anarchic spirit of the Scherzo with virtuoso abandon. The Passacaglia takes the form of a meditation on last things. It is brilliantly accompanied by Andrew Davis, who here surpasses his studio recording of three years later with Dmitry Sitkovetsky. The cadenza is a musical equivalent of Yeats’s “foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” In the concluding Burlesque, Staryk masters a brutal kind of slapstick, almost The Three Stooges meet Joe Stalin. This performance is the statement of a mature and dignified artist.
Maturity also is the sign of a violinist who can characterize miniatures. Volume 2 of this retrospective is one of the finest collections of short works for violin I know of. Staryk approaches them like a storyteller, making of each a narrative jewel. Pride of place goes to the six Kreisler originals he plays. They are marked by daredevil nonchalance of technique and a subtle, expressive rubato. Staryk always suggests the vein of melancholy beneath the brilliant exterior of these works, something Pinchas Zukerman also does on his early LP of Kreisler (which Sony should rerelease). The three Tchaikovsky selections receive readings of Mozartian elegance, making me wish we could hear Staryk in the concerto. Three French works by Massenet, Fauré, and Ravel are marked by grace and Gallic taste. Staryk shows a robust approach to two pieces by Henryk Wieniawski. Lovely curios are two selections played with a gypsy band, one of which is inserted into its appropriate place in Pablo Sarasate’s
, to telling effect. Of the remaining works, perhaps the most radiant performance is of the second movement of Robert Schumann’s rarely heard Violin Concerto, making me wish we had the whole thing.
Volume 3, devoted to Bach, displays Staryk as a Bach player in the league of Szigeti and Milstein. All three have the ability to play Bach as though they are revealing an essential quality of their particular instrument. In Staryk’s First Concerto, the opening movement is marked by an exceptional purity of tone. His
possesses a timeless nature, while the last movement exhibits rhythmic dynamism. In the two Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Staryk performs BWV 1023 with a rhapsodic quality, while BWV 1020 is incisive yet passionate. Kenneth Gilbert plays beautifully throughout. Although not mentioned in the album notes, BWV 1020 now generally is considered the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The Partita No. 2 for solo violin is divided between two performances. The first four dances, from 1962, are vividly characterized. The concluding Chaconne, recorded live in 1978, is an amazing tour de force, sensitive yet powerful. At times Staryk summons an extraordinary volume of tone from his instrument. The Second Concerto, in somewhat limited sound, is classic in its proportions, with an unusual depth. It amounts to a kind of stylistic summit for Bach.
No better Prokofiev performances can be heard than those in Volume 4. In the First Concerto, Staryk equals Ricci with de Froment and Stern with Mehta; it is even more remarkable for being recorded live. Indeed, I’ve heard Kyung-Wha Chung and Joshua Bell play this concerto in concert, and neither came close to Staryk. The opening movement feels like a May breeze through the trees, to which Bernard Haitink contributes a lightness of touch. The Scherzo is a madcap dance, while the final movement in Staryk’s hands exudes bourgeois contentment. Staryk’s excellent partner for the sonatas is Mario Bernardi, better known as a conductor. The del Gesù violin Staryk uses for the sonatas has a grittier sound than the Strad he performs the concerto on. I listened to Joshua Bell and Olli Mustonen’s recording of the sonatas, and Bell sounds amateurish by comparison with Staryk. The opening movement of the First Sonata here feels like Prokofiev’s version of Don Giovanni and the Commendatore in the cemetery. The next movement,
, sounds like a shoving match. Staryk offers a third movement like a flickering candle by a window at night. The last movement is a danse macabre. Staryk revels in the beautiful cornucopia of Prokofievian melody that is the Second Sonata. His approach to it makes it sound like a 20th-Century equivalent to Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata. I never have heard an artist identify with a composer more completely than Staryk does with Prokofiev.
Staryk’s all-Mozart album, Volume 5 of this retrospective, is a splendid blend of style and substance. The idea of taking movements from three different performances of the Third Violin Concerto to make up this recording is very appealing. Staryk’s sensibility in the work stays unified over their 22-year stretch. While the outer movements are brilliant in their articulation, the highlight is the
with Thomas Beecham. Staryk’s playing here has such a simplicity and serenity that I wondered if he had grown up with Yehudi Menuhin’s similar 1935 recording. The
, K 261, and the Rondo, K 373, receive renditions that are elegant yet full bodied. Staryk’s handling of the
brings out a Gluck like quality to the melody. The final movement of the K 516 string quintet gives Staryk the opportunity to shine in the ample first violin part, playing with vigor and discernment. Lastly, the
, K 364, offers a virtuoso feast from Staryk and violist Oscar Shumsky. Shumsky was a great Mozartean on violin, too (having been one of Staryk’s teachers), and makes an unbelievable sound on viola. His performance with Staryk rhetorically is very stentorian, at times creating a thrill a minute. Heifetz’s 1956 recording with William Primrose is just as virtuosic and relies more on a juxtaposition of light and shade, but Staryk and Shumsky make a strong case for their point of view. David Miller’s accompaniment is excellent.
The last volume documents Staryk’s longtime duo with pianist John Perry. Perry is a virtuosic and expressive player who blends well with Staryk. Their performance of the “Kreutzer” Sonata is vigorous and athletic. They don’t take the first or final movement’s exposition repeat—there’s no dawdling about this interpretation. The slow movement’s variations proceed straightforwardly, with little rubato. Good as this performance is, I believe that period instruments reveal more of the character of this piece than any modern-instrument rendition I’ve heard does. There are excellent period performances by Benjamin Hudson with Mary Verney and by Evan Johnson with Anthony Newman. As for Bartók’s First Sonata, it unquestionably receives a great performance. The artists calibrate the first movement delicately, which is in the manner of a fantasy. Unfortunately, there’s a notable amount of tape flutter in it. The second movement, an
, is the high point of the duo’s interpretation. Here there is a precursor of the spacious expressiveness of Arvo Pärt, and the duo plays with imagination and authority. The last movement,
, sounds rather like a Brahms
gone mad. It offers great scope for virtuoso and passionate playing, and Staryk and Perry project it brilliantly. Their ensemble here is almost uncanny. As their audience’s response testifies, the duo ends this Steven Staryk retrospective on a note of triumph.
After spending about 40 hours listening to
Steven Staryk—A Retrospective
, I am loathe to put aside these CDs and file my review. Staryk is revealed here not just as a great musician but also as a trusted friend of the listener. Few artists give of themselves so wholeheartedly to their audience. Even though many of these recordings are monaural and less than state of the art, I guarantee that they will entrance you infinitely longer than the latest PR confections on CD of our pretty young violinists. Perhaps it is not too late to provide Steven Staryk with the major international reputation he so richly deserves. Compared to him, nearly all other violinists indeed sound like children.