A Retrospective: Vol. 7 Reviews

Fanfare Magazine
David Saemann

November 2015

STEVEN STARYK: A RETROSPECTIVE, VOLUME 7  •  Steven Staryk (vn); 1Pierre Hétu, 2Mario Bernardi, 3George Corwin, cond; 1Toronto Festival O; 2Natl Arts Centre O; 3University of Victoria O  •  CENTAUR 3366, mono (79:32) Live: 1Toronto c. 1983-5; 2Ottawa 1981; 3Victoria 1973

SCHUMANN Violin Concerto1. WALTON Violin Concerto2. MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto No. 23

I have a vivid memory of Steven Staryk as concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony. It was 1986, and the orchestra was playing a Viennese evening under Franz Allers. Staryk threw himself into the music, with long, swooping strokes of his bow. He almost appeared to bounce up and down in his chair. The bow seemed to possess a life of its own, something I only had seen Nathan Milstein do. This passion and simple, direct enthusiasm is typical of Staryk. Yes, his technique with the instrument is comparable to Milstein and Ricci’s. But even more significantly, there is an element of imagination and fantasy in Staryk’s playing that is unsurpassed by any violinist I’ve heard. I perhaps should be wary of the following statement in the age of period instruments, yet sometimes when I listen to Staryk I feel as if I am experiencing the music just as the composer heard it in his head. All we critics pretend that we know how a piece should sound, but the ability to translate that intimation into actual tones is the rarest of gifts. Staryk has it. The first time I listened to this CD, halfway through the opening movement of the Schumann I was in tears. Here was music I had known for 30 years, and never did it come to life like this. Such is the effect Staryk’s playing has on me, and I dare say it will for you, too.

Schumann’s concerto was written for Joseph Joachim, who after the composer’s death decided, along with Brahms and Clara Schumann, that the work was not suitable for publication or public performance. Joachim did play it privately. The premiere occurred in 1937. Staryk and I agreed in conversation that the concerto, contrary to much critical opinion, really is first-rate Schumann. What must have perturbed Schumann’s associates, I believe, is the piece’s rugged grandeur, harmonic daring, and dramatic abandon. As with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s final symphony, Schumann at the end of his creative life was opening up new vistas, which unfortunately never were pursued further. Staryk only gave a few performances of the concerto during his career, as not many conductors have it in their repertory. The present version with Pierre Hétu is treasurable. From the opening tutti, Hétu’s accompaniment is warm and full of Romantic yearning. Most importantly, he lets Staryk be Staryk. The violinist’s playing in the first movement is deeply rhapsodic, with a tone that has the texture of a fine woolen garment. The ascent to the major at the movement’s end feels like the sun piercing through clouds. Staryk’s performance of the slow movement is declamatory, as if he were pronouncing a touching, old-fashioned oration. Volume Two in this series contains another performance of this movement, much softer in tone—a different interpretation altogether. Staryk really swings in the concluding movement, as naturally as if it were a riff from Benny Goodman. Of studio recordings of the concerto, the Peters LP by Patrice Fontanarosa still sounds marvelous, although the rendition is one step removed from the ecstasy Staryk achieves.

For the Walton concerto, Staryk is teamed with the late Mario Bernardi, one of the most underrated conductors of the past 60 years. I had the pleasure of hearing Bernardi accompany Rudolf Firkusny at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart. Bernardi also is the pianist in Staryk’s superb 1966 accounts of the Prokofiev violin sonatas, included in Volume Four of this series. Staryk and Bernardi are of one mind regarding the Walton, and their partnership is hand in glove. The violin’s first melody is marked sognando, or “dreaming.” Staryk provides a dream rich in fascinating Jungian archetypes. Walton admitted that the opening movement was inspired by his relationship with Alice Wimborne. I don’t know whether Staryk has had an amorous experience in his life comparable to Walton’s, but his portrayal of such feelings is as rich as Liszt’s in the Petrarch Sonnets. For the second subject of the next movement, Staryk conjures up the image of an Italian street violinist. The performance of the concluding Vivace is saturated with Mediterranean atmosphere. The coda finds Staryk nonchalantly tossing Zeus’s thunderbolts. Aaron Rosand’s studio account of the Walton with James Judd is almost as technically accomplished as Staryk’s, but emotionally it’s on a colder planet.

Staryk’s Mendelssohn concerto is very virile, without the creaminess in the slow movement that characterizes Milstein and Zukerman. Staryk’s first movement, marred slightly by an overeager timpanist, is a miracle of bow pressure and speed, creating a singing tone that still has a lot of weight. The violinist takes the Molto appassianato marking very seriously. He brings out the influence of Paganini on the cadenza. In the slow movement, Staryk finds the dark songfulness of such moments in the Scottish Symphony. He sends off sparks in all directions in the last movement. His attacks and colors on each string must be the envy of every living violinist. Indeed, the only recording of the Mendelssohn I like better that Staryk’s is the 1949 Heifetz/Beecham, which I prefer as a performance and as recorded sound to Heifetz’s remake with Charles Munch. The mono sound throughout all of the present CD by Staryk varies from high fidelity to passable AM radio type engineering. The recordings also are not always in the best state of preservation. My copy produced low level electrical noises briefly during the Schumann’s first movement. Nevertheless, no fiddle player I know of at present offers artistry of this caliber. Steven Staryk has served his instrument and the composer with a fidelity that must invite our admiration and affection. Just as you do not know what the violin can do until you’ve heard Mischa Elman’s acoustic 78s and Heifetz’s Decca recordings, Staryk on this CD creates potential for the instrument that no one else has done.

Fanfare Magazine
David Saemann

Passion and simple, direct enthusiasm is typical of Steven Staryk. Yes, his technique with the instrument is comparable to Milstein and Ricci’s. But even more significantly, there is an element of imagination and fantasy in Staryk’s playing that is unsurpassed by any violinist I’ve heard. I perhaps should be wary of the following statement in the age of period instruments, yet sometimes when I listen to Staryk I feel as if I am experiencing the music just as the composer heard it in his head. We critics all pretend that we know how a piece should sound, but the ability to translate that intimation into actual tones is the rarest of gifts. Staryk has it. The first time I listened to this CD, halfway through the opening movement of the Schumann I was in tears. Here was music I had known for 30 years, and never did it come to life like this. Such is the effect Staryk’s playing has on me, and I dare say it will for you, too.

Schumann’s Concerto was written for Joseph Joachim, who after the composer’s death decided, along with Brahms and Clara Schumann, that the work was not suitable for publication or public performance. Joachim did play it privately. The public premiere occurred in 1937. Staryk and I agreed in conversation that the Concerto, contrary to much critical opinion, really is first-rate Schumann. What must have perturbed Schumann’s associates, I believe, is the piece’s rugged grandeur, harmonic daring, and dramatic abandon. As with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s final symphony, Schumann at the end of his creative life was opening up new vistas, which unfortunately never were pursued further. Staryk only gave a few performances of the Concerto during his career, as not many conductors have it in their repertory. The present version with Pierre Hétu is treasurable. From the opening tutti, Hétu’s accompaniment is warm and full of Romantic yearning. Most importantly, he lets Staryk be Staryk. The violinist’s playing in the first movement is deeply rhapsodic, with a tone that has the texture of a fine woolen garment. The ascent to the major at the movement’s end feels like the sun piercing through clouds. Staryk’s performance of the slow movement is declamatory, as if he were pronouncing a touching, old-fashioned oration. Volume Two in this series (this is Volume Seven) contains another performance of this movement, much softer in tone—a different interpretation altogether. Staryk really swings in the concluding movement, as naturally as if it were a riff from Benny Goodman. Of studio recordings of the Concerto, the Peters LP by Patrice Fontanarosa still sounds marvelous, although the rendition is one step removed from the ecstasy Staryk achieves.

For the Walton Concerto, Staryk is teamed with the late Mario Bernardi, one of the most underrated conductors of the past 60 years. I had the pleasure of hearing Bernardi accompany Rudolf Firkusny at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart. Bernardi also is the pianist in Staryk’s superb 1966 accounts of the Prokofiev violin sonatas, included in Volume Four of this series. Staryk and Bernardi are of one mind regarding the Walton, and their partnership is hand in glove. The violin’s first melody is marked sognando, or “dreaming.” Staryk provides a dream rich in fascinating Jungian archetypes. Walton admitted that the opening movement was inspired by his relationship with Alice Wimborne. I don’t know whether Staryk has had an amorous experience in his life comparable to Walton’s, but his portrayal of such feelings is as rich as Liszt’s in the Petrarch Sonnets. For the second subject of the next movement, Staryk conjures up the image of an Italian street violinist. The performance of the concluding Vivace is saturated with Mediterranean atmosphere. The coda finds Staryk nonchalantly tossing Zeus’s thunderbolts. Aaron Rosand’s studio account of the Walton with James Judd is almost as technically accomplished as Staryk’s, but emotionally it’s on a colder planet.

Staryk’s Mendelssohn Concerto is very virile, without the creaminess in the slow movement that characterizes Milstein and Zukerman. Staryk’s first movement, marred slightly by an overeager timpanist, is a miracle of bow pressure and speed, creating a singing tone that still has a lot of weight. The violinist takes the Molto appassianato marking very seriously. He brings out the influence of Paganini on the cadenza. In the slow movement, Staryk finds the dark songfulness of such moments in the Scottish Symphony. He sends off sparks in all directions in the last movement. His attacks and colors on each string must be the envy of every living violinist. Indeed, the only recording of the Mendelssohn I like better than Staryk’s is the 1949 Heifetz/Beecham, which I prefer as a performance and as recorded sound to Heifetz’s remake with Charles Munch. The mono sound throughout all of the present CD by Staryk varies from high fidelity to passable AM radio type engineering. The recordings also are not always in the best state of preservation. My copy produced low-level electrical noises briefly during the Schumann’s first movement. Nevertheless, no fiddle player I know of at present offers artistry of this caliber. Steven Staryk has served his instrument and the composer with a fidelity that must invite our admiration and affection. Just as you do not know what the violin can do until you’ve heard Mischa Elman’s acoustic 78s and Heifetz’s Decca recordings, Staryk on this CD creates potential for the instrument that no one else has done.

Read Fanfare’s accompanying interview with Steven Staryk

 

Fanfare Magazine
Maria Nockin

STEVEN STARYK

SCHUMANN Concerto1. WALTON Concerto2. MENDELSSOHN Concerto3  •  Steven Staryk, 1Pierre Hétu, cond; 1Toronto Festival O; 2Mario Bernardi, cond; 2National Arts Center O; 3George Corwin, cond; 3U of Victoria O  •  CENTAUR CRC 3366 (79:32)

Born in 1932, Steven Staryk is a Canadian violin virtuoso of Ukrainian descent. During the McCarthy Era, the nineteen year old Staryk was one of six musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra denied permission to enter the United States for a concert tour because of suspected Communist leanings. Sometimes called the king of the concert masters, he held the top violin position in London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of twenty-four. Later, he became the youngest teacher to become a full professor at Oberlin Conservatory. He has been concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has taught a several of the world’s most important music schools. A founding member of Quartet Canada, he was also a member of the Oberlin String Quartet and the CBC String Quartet. His discography of almost two hundred compositions makes him the most recorded of Canadian musicians. This recording is Volume 7 of his retrospective.

Robert Schumann composed his only violin concerto toward the end of his life when the people closest to him recognized that he was mentally ill. He wrote the concerto for violinist Joseph Joachim who never presented it for publication because he found it strange. The work did not surface until 1933 when the Nazis thought it would be a good substitute for the beloved but forbidden Mendelssohn work. Written at a difficult time in the composer’s life, the first and last movements may not be Schumann’s best work. However, the exquisite beauty of the B-flat major second movement, marked Langsam (slow), makes up for many of the shortcomings heard before and after it. Staryk’s conviction, taste, and musicianship enable him to present this piece in the best possible light. A great deal more than just a technical wizard, Staryk is an artist who conveys deep emotion. Pierre Hétu and the Toronto Festival Orchestra give an expressive reading of Schumann’s piece that completes the soloist’s fine work. Comparisons are more a question of taste than technical ability. Joshua Bell recorded it with a young fresh sound for Decca a number of years ago. Rachel Barton Pine plays it gracefully with the Göttinger Symphony Orchestra under Christoph-Mathias Mueller for Cedille. Gidon Kremer makes a point of slowing the third movement on his Teldec disc. Hänssler Historic Recordings has just rereleased Henryk Szering’s iconic disc from the nineteen fifties.

The Walton Concerto is like a palate cleansing glass of dry white wine between complex dishes. Staryk, together with Mario Bernardi and the National Arts Center Orchestra of Ottawa, give a strong linear tone to the composer’s imaginative rhythms. Staryk’s accuracy, tonal purity, and the support of Bernardi’s orchestra make this work a delight for the ears. Both Joshua Bell who recorded the Walton in 1997 for Decca and Tasmin Little who recorded it for Chandos in 2014 are at their best in the concerto’s more introspective moments. Like them, Staryk has silken tones, but he also excels in the Presto capriccioso alla Napolitana. Staryk plays the Mendelssohn Concerto faster then most because he can do it with ease. His bow simply flies over the strings to produce the composer’s opulent aural tapestry. There are numerous comparative recordings. Itzhak Perlman recorded it in 2013 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra directed by Bernard Haitink. Alina Ibragimova’s version came out on EMI in 2012 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment led by Vladimir Jurowski. For those who would like a great historical performance, in 2012 Classical Masters reissued Jascha Heifetz’s recording of the work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Charles Munch. Any lover of violin playing will want to have several versions of each concerto mentioned, and choosing is part of the fun. Staryk recorded the music on this disc live. The sound is good and it puts him in front of the orchestra. I enjoy the ease and flexibility of his playing as well as his ability to color his tones. He is an immensely talented musician and I look forward to hearing a great deal more from him. I think my readers will also want to own his discs.

 

Fanfare Magazine
James Forrest

STEVEN STARYK A Retrospective: Volume 7 * Steven Staryk, vn; various conductors and orchestras (live) * CENTAUR CRC 3366 (79:32)

SCHUMANN  Concerto in D Minor, WoO 23 * Pierre Hétu, cond; Toronto Festival O * WALTON Concerto  * Mario Bernardi, cond; National Arts Centre O, Ottawa * MENDELSSOHN Concerto in E Minor, op 64 * George Corwin, cond: Univ. of Victoria O

When the endless march of great violinists finally makes its way into the string players’ Valhalla, I do not know if Canada’s Steven Staryk will be included in the parade.  But I will state, without fear of contradiction, that this Centaur release contains “great” violin playing. (Actually, I would include Staryk in that march in a trice! But, not as long as he is still with us, and in good health!)  When Staryk was last interviewed in Fanfare’s pages, only two years ago, he noted that Centaur’s issues had stopped at a half-dozen.  Here we have the seventh release with another five or so to follow, or so I understand.  In case I fail to make the point later: all should acquire these superlative performances.  The sonics may cause a bit of listener fatigue.  The performances will nourish you as long as you listen to these works.  Incredible value at an hour and twenty minutes.

Your correspondent has heard many (most) of the great violinists from my age 10 (Elman), Morini, Odnoposoff, Spivakovsky (age 12 & 13), Kaufmann and Heifetz (age 18) and beyond. Staryk’s playing in these three concerti equals pretty much anything I have ever heard. When the Editor, in his infinite wisdom, passed this disc on requesting a relatively quick turnaround, I assumed it might be important.  Little could I have expected such treasures.

While this is not about me, readers are entitled to know my choices in these works. For the Mendelssohn, five recordings: Kreisler/Blech; Szigeti/Beecham, Milstein/Steinberg, Francescatti/Mitropoulos, Lin/MTT.  If  I could have only one; the mono Francescatti. In Walton we start with Heifetz; I own his Philharmonia recording with the composer. Many prefer the earlier recording with Goossens.  I also retain my Angel lp with Menuhin and the composer. The violinist could not really play the work but he loved the record and the viola concerto on the reverse is very good.   (What can I say?) Joshua Bell made a fine recording in Baltimore with David Zinman and two  ladies dazzle in Walton: Ida Haendel with Berglund, and Camilla Wicks on a SIMAX CD with the Oslo Phil O under Juri Simonov.  Another great Walton recording features a third lady, Chung, again with the composer conducting. The Schumann is the most problematic of all (a problematic work).  I listen to the youthful Kremer and Muti on DG, and also Bell with Dohnanyi from Cleveland (I bought the disc for the Schumann, but it is the Brahms coupling which is the more notable!)  In the mists of time, a so-so Schumann from Szeryng and Dorati on Mercury lp, and 78 rpm recordings from Menuhin and Kulenkampff.

This unexpected trio from Centaur causes me to do some serious rethinking, and will stimulate all who acquire the disc.  I may never listen to another recorded performance of Schumann’s only concerto for this instrument.  Yes!  It’s that good.  The sound is up close and in your face (and ears). One can hear Staryk breathe and also rosin falling off the bow. It is tiring sound.  But this is simply the most compelling performance of the piece I have ever heard.  Staryk’s attack, on his 1727 Barrere Strad, at the concerto’s opening, will lift you from your chair.  A conductor unknown to me, Pierre Hétu is with him all the way, and the “Festival Orchestra’ plays, as we used to say in my college days, well “above their oyster”.  I am not going to try to analyze this performance in detail.  If one wants to pick a particular section, I would say that the intensity, the fervor, particularly of the third movement, are distinguishing.  But there is not a note that failed to hold my attention.

So, too, the Walton.  I have heard Mario Benardi conduct a lot of music, but was surprised at his aptitude for Walton’s idiom.  I was pleased at how well both soloist and conductor brought out the “jazzy” elements of the piece.  The sound is as closely miked as the Toronto performance of the Schumann, but in Ottowa we have less harshness.  The sound is a trifle cleaner.  Still . . . it is so close to the ear as to be a bit wearing.  This concerto is so difficult (Walton’s comment at the recording sessions with Chung: “It was that damned Heifetz, he kept at me to make it more difficult!”)  This concert performance all but beggars belief.  I heard maybe one smudged note letting us know there had been no editing, no splice.  And now, I could not tell you where I think I heard that note !  As with the Schumann, the soloist’s intensity grows as the work progresses, and the third movement is riveting.

The Schumann dates from between 1983 to 1985 (the precise date seems lost), and the Walton was aired in 1981.  The Mendelssohn, however, dates from 1973.  We are told the violinist was reluctant to have an outdoor concert preserved for commercial issue, but, in the event, not to worry! The orchestra is not the reason for hearing this performance, although they do not do badly. Nor do the sonics, although they may offer a bit less orchestra than soloist, disqualify. In fact, the sound is less tiring to the ear than in the other works. I remember an outdoor performance of this ever-lovely work south of Portland Maine, a quarter century ago, with the lovely American violinist Stephanie Chase.  Hearing Staryk’s technically brilliant and warm-hearted interpretation reminds me of that and makes me grateful we can hear him in this cornerstone of the repertory.  It was, at age 17, the first violin concerto I ever heard—also with a college symphony orchestra and the fine California-based violinist, William Hymanson.

I’ve  heard this disc straight thru’ some four times over the past few days.  Given the broadcast sonics, it should best be heard, perhaps, one concerto at a time.  But heard it must be.  My Want List for 2015 is turned in, and the Editor wants this review now.  So, quite simply: All need to hear and all should own this splendid Cd.  No excuses! Thanks to Centaur! (Excellent notes!) Thanks to Steven Staryk.

 

Fanfare Magazine
Daniel Morrison

SCHUMANN Violin Concerto in d1. WALTON Violin Concerto2. MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in e3  ●  Steven Staryk (vn); 1Pierre Hétu, 2Mario Bernardi, 3George Corwin, cond; 1Toronto Festival O; 2Natl Arts Centre O; 3University of Victoria O  ●  CENTAUR 3366, mono/stereo (79:32) Live: 1Toronto c. 1983–85, 2Ottawa 1981, 3Victoria, BC 1973

Until now, Steven Staryk has been known to me primarily by reputation rather than first-hand acquaintance. I have not yet heard any of the prior releases in Centaur’s retrospective series, which have received such glowing assessments in Fanfare. Hearing this new issue has motivated me to acquire some of those recordings as soon as I can.

Staryk’s approach to the first movement of the Schumann Concerto is characterized by an unusual degree of urgency and intensity, which is exactly what this darkly colored, obsessive product of the composer’s final years requires. This effect is not solely the result of a faster overall tempo, although it is true that Staryk’s timing for the movement is substantially shorter than those of all but one of the recordings I have on hand for comparison (by Frank Peter Zimmermann, Thomas Zehetmair, Gidon Kremer, and Anthony Marwood; the exception is Yehudi Menuhin’s 1938 recording). Staryk and his conductor, Pierre Hétu, do not allow the lyrical second theme to break the momentum, relaxing the tempo at this point only to a limited degree. Elsewhere, too, expressive inflections of tempo are present but kept within a comparatively narrow range, not interrupting the steady forward motion. Urgency and intensity are further enhanced by Staryk’s insistence on maintaining a continuous line and by strong bow pressure that does not, however, compromise the warmth and beauty of his tone. Zimmermann’s performance is beautifully played, but in comparison seems cautious and small-scaled, with nothing like the tension and urgent forward motion achieved by Staryk. Nor are those qualities quite matched in any of the other performances cited; Menuhin’s is actually a bit faster, but lacks the tensile strength of Staryk’s. The unflagging urgency of this performance is sustained in Staryk’s fervent treatment of the elegiac slow movement, contrasting with the more yielding approach of several other performers. Staryk adopts a comparatively quick tempo for the finale, which may be somewhat at odds with Schumann’s marking of Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell (Lively, but not fast). I think, however, that the movement benefits from this more kinetic and exuberant treatment and can bog down at the much slower tempos employed, for example, by Marwood and by Kremer (in his recording with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, not the earlier one under Riccardo Muti). In Staryk’s hands, the movement projects a genuine sense of triumph over the torment expressed earlier in the work. This concerto has often been dismissed as a deeply flawed product of Schumann’s declining years, symptomatic of his approaching mental collapse. It would be difficult to take that view after hearing Staryk’s impassioned performance, one of the most convincing I have encountered.

Centaur’s notes give no information about the conductor and orchestra involved in this performance. Although I have not been able to find out anything specific about it, I assume that the Toronto Festival Orchestra, rather than being a permanent ensemble, was an orchestra assembled for an annual summer festival in that city. Pierre Hétu (1936–1998) was a Canadian conductor who studied under such luminaries as Sergiu Celibidache, Charles Munch, Jean Martinon, and Hans Swarowsky. Despite this training and a promising beginning to his career, he never achieved a world-wide reputation or a front-rank appointment, but he did conduct widely in Canada and Europe and received some very laudatory reviews. On the strength of this Schumann performance, he appears to have been a very able conductor. Schumann’s dense orchestration presents balance problems that are dealt with effectively here, and Hétu secures good ensemble and rhythmic incisiveness as well. In orchestral tutti, he generates a massive momentum that matches the urgency and intensity achieved by his soloist. The sound quality of this live recording is not ideal but is sufficient to convey the excellence of the performance. At its best, in loud orchestral passages, it can be quite good, with substantial impact, clarity, and detail. I hear no specific stereo effects, but the sound does have a certain spaciousness that suggests some stereo input. Dynamic range is somewhat limited, however, and the recording can sometimes be a bit harsh or shrill. There are occasional extraneous noises, some of which may be breathing picked up by the close miking.

William Walton’s Concerto, written for Jascha Heifetz, is full of virtuoso pyrotechnics. Staryk’s command of these technical challenges is no less dazzling than that of Heifetz himself, in his 1941 recording reissued by Naxos, and the Heifetz performance is of course a studio effort, not a live concert. Tempo differences between the two performances are modest, but in place of the aristocratic aloofness of Heifetz, Staryk delivers a passionate intensity that is truly captivating. The National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa, the principal orchestra of the Canadian capital, plays brilliantly and incisively under its then music director, Mario Bernardi. In sound quality, the Walton performance is by far the best of the three on this disc: in stereo, it is brilliant, spacious, clear, and completely free from distortion, giving the listener the best opportunity to savor Staryk’s gorgeous tone.

Sound quality is more problematical in the familiar Mendelssohn Concerto. The recording appears to be mono, as I hear no stereo effect. The insert reveals that this 1973 performance took place outdoors, and that the “extremely open ‘Greek’ theatre also was more than a challenge to ensemble matters.” Nonetheless, what I presume to be a student orchestra, although backwardly balanced, sounds more than up to the task, with problems of coordination between soloist and orchestra heard only briefly in the finale. And the blazing intensity of Staryk’s performance comes through without any impairment. The first movement, taken at a quicker-than-average tempo, is fiery and urgent. The Andante is firmly paced but deeply felt. The finale is played with beguiling spontaneity and abandon. The extraordinary beauty and opulence of Staryk’s tone is in evidence throughout the performance.

Steven Staryk is clearly a remarkable violinist. It is most regrettable that he has not been given the attention he deserves by record companies, so that he could be recorded under optimal conditions with state-of-the-art technology. This release, however, is a valuable document of his compelling artistry.

 

Musical Assumptions
Elaine Fine

October 2015

I rarely write about CDs in this space, but this recording on Centaur, which will be available this November 13th is really something special and worthy of your attention. I got an advance copy from Mr. Staryk, and I resisted the temptation to listen to it until the month of November was in sight. Now I just have to write about it.

Joseph Joachim’s will stated that the Schumann Violin Concerto could not be performed until 100 years after Schumann’s death (Joachim and Clara Schumann did not understand the piece and were therefore unable to understand its value). In 1937 Yehudi Menuhin got permission, after Joachim’s granddaughter located the manuscript, to violate the will, but the Nazi authorities would not allow Menuhin to premiere the Concerto. It was performed and first recorded by Georg Kulenhampff, but was not given the performance it deserved. Staryk’s performance with the Toronto Festival Orchestra (1983 or 1985) with Pierre Hétu conducting IS the performance this piece deserves. (I find the Kulenhampff recording unlistenable now. I just have it here for reference.)

The Concerto had a slight resurgence in the last decade, and there have been some very good recordings of it, but this concert performance is really remarkable. The recorded sound of the orchestra is not pristine (it was probably recorded using a microphone placed in the audience), but it is rich, commanding, and beautifully phrased. Staryk plays the solo part on the Barrere Strad, which has a fantastically complex sound. His eloquent elocution in the opening declamatory passages continues with absolute focused attention throughout the piece.

Because of Staryk’s commanding musical “vision,” there is no way to listen without becoming completely involved in the music making. Staryk has such integrity as a violinist that every single one of the difficulty arranged notes sounds clear and clean (even through some of the recorded fuzz, and the occasional bump–like the big one at around 8:30 of the first movement).

The crystal clear scale passages in the last movement are certainly impressive:

 


But what is most impressive to me is the way they operate as fine filagree in the musical texture rather than as pure foreground. I have heard recordings of the piece where the passage work in the last movement feels like pure torture. Here it feels like pure pleasure, albeit the kind of pleasure you get from watching high-wire artists perform death-defying acrobatics.

Then we get the Walton Concerto. This recording comes from a 1981 radio broadcast, and the recorded sound is better than the recorded sound in the Schumann Concerto. It is charming and brilliant, and you really get to hear all the colors Staryk gets from the Barerre Strad and the way the orchestration reflects those colors. I actually prefer this recording (with Mario Bernardi leading the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa) to Menuhin’s recording with the composer conducting, but I tend to prefer Staryk’s playing to Menuhin’s playing in general.

Staryk uses the Muntz Strad for his performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto with the University of Victoria Orchestra conducted by George Corwin. The balance between the solo violin and the orchestra is often a problem in performances of the Mendelssohn Concerto, and one would imagine that it would be a problem during this outdoor public performance in 1973, but the commanding sound of the Muntz Strad can be heard clearly even in pianissimo passages, and even when the occasional breeze causes the sound to waft away from the microphone.

I love the brisk tempos, particularly the tempo of the slow movement (which is not slow).

You’ll have to wait for a few weeks before this recording becomes available, so in the meantime, particularly if you are unfamiliar with Staryk’s playing and career, you might like to read this interview I did with him in 2009. And I’m sure you would certainly enjoying hearing the recordings on this YouTube channel devoted to films of Staryk playing recitals, concertos, and even donning a red wig and playing the part of Vivaldi in a film.