Notes and Editorial Reviews
"One of my most distinguished predecessors at Fanfare, 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 Larghetto 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.
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.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin no 1 in D major, Op. 6 by Niccolò Paganini
Steven Staryk (Violin)
Norddutscher Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra
Written: ?1817; Italy
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Steven Staryk (Violin)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
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