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.
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 Adagio 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 Adagio, K 261, and the Rondo, K 373, receive renditions that are elegant yet full bodied. Staryk’s handling of the Adagio 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 Sinfonia Concertante, 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.
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
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