Classical Reissue Reviews

Steven Staryk: A Retrospective: Volume I = PAGANINI, BEETHOVEN, MOZART, SHOSHTAKOVICH, SAINT-SAENS – Centaur (2 CDs)

Famed concertmaster and esteemed soloist Steven Staryk performs brilliantly enough so that light from the Staryk Galaxy permanently illumines our musical skies.

Published on July 13, 2012

Steven Staryk: A Retrospective: Volume I = PAGANINI, BEETHOVEN, MOZART, SHOSHTAKOVICH, SAINT-SAENS – Centaur (2 CDs)

Steven Staryk: A Retrospective: Volume I = PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; MOZART: Violin Concerto in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”; SAINT-SAENS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28; SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 99 – Steven Staryk, violin/ N. German Radio Sym./ Herman Michael (Paganini)/ Royal Concertgebouw Orch./ Bernard Haitink (Beethoven)/ CBC Vancouver Ch. Orch./ John Avison (Mozart)/ Toronto Sym. Orch./ Sir Andrew Davis (Shostakovich)/ London Festival Orch./ Douglas Gamley (Saint-Saens) – Centaur CRC 3186/3187 (2 CDs) 70:31; 73:31 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Considered the “King of Concertmasters,” Steven Staryk (b. 1932) has been concertmaster of four of the world’s major orchestras: the Royal Philharmonic of London, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Chicago Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony. This Canadian-born violinist was the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Royal Philharmonic of London when he was appointed by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1956. Staryk has since toured Europe, the Far East, and North America as soloist and founding member of Quartet Canada. More than 190 entries in the Creighton violin discography rank Staryk among the world’s most prolific recording violinists. Anyone who has ever owned or played the Beecham recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade has awed at and pondered over the talent of this master of his instrument.

To be quite blatant about it: the performance of the Paganini Concerto (live January 1969) has to rank of among the most intensely blistering virtuosic renditions in my experience. Staryk, in a recent interview, suggests the possible influences for this success in “gypsified“ music:

I started by being really, really infatuated by the music itself. My step-father was Yugoslav, so I had contacts with Macedonian, Greek, and Yugoslav musicians. I played mandolin and violin. Much of the Hungarian, Romanian, and Balkan music is gypsy music. You’d find rhythms and all kinds of harmonies that you never heard before.

Not only are the usual technical accoutrements of this concerto realized, but the very acoustic of the North German Radio venue contributes to the stratospheric aura of the high notes, trills, and harmonics, the “shooting for the rafters” effect. His instrument, the Muntz Strad of 1736, perfectly fits the music, especially given the virtues of the first movement cadenza, a composite of Sauret and Wilhelmj as arranged by Staryk himself.

If the Paganini might be construed as relatively “shallow,” pyrotechnically superficial music, try Staryk in the time-tested classics by Beethoven and Mozart. The Beethoven (18 September 1961, for Santa Caecilia Day) with the ever-architectural molder of orchestral sound, Haitink, enjoys a singular breadth of vision I would have attributed to the famed Grumiaux/Beinum and Schneiderhahn/Furtwaengler conceptions, Apollinian and grandly conceived in the symmetrical periods that mark this work’s innate nobility. Staryk’s chosen instrument for the Beethoven is the Hochstein Stradivarius of 1715. The Mozart (rec. broadcast live, 1972) immediately moves with streamlined felicity and blazing speed and accuracy. The instrument here is the Baltic del Gesu of 1731, spins out the lush melodies of the first two movements in seamless silver thread. The high-mindedness of the opening movements in no way cheapens the stunning effects of Mozart’s janissary impulses that spice the last movement to such excellent, vital appeal. The Joachim cadenzas impress not as anachronisms, but as tender and affectionate responses to the melodic tissue. This is a performance of girth, wit, and genial spontaneity in all parts.

The familiar Aragonese jota, Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (rec. London, 1962), has always set violinists in pursuit of Heifetz’s virtually ideal realizations.  Staryk comes as close as anyone, bringing a taste of gypsy intent for its intended dedicatee: Pablo de Sarasate. Here, Staryk rivals the no less seamless artistry of Ruggiero Ricci in this delectable Iberian evocation by a master of French classical taste. At 4:40 there is a decided sonic shift in the quality (microphone placement) of the recording, however the music remains intact.

The 1948 Concerto in A Minor by Dmitri Shostakovich illuminates Staryk’s art in another light entirely. Here, plying his ex-Barrere Stradivari of 1727, Staryk and conductor Andrew Davis (rec. 1986) engage in a series of meditations on life’s bitter struggles and eventual moral conquest of adversity. The opening Nocturne projects a singular, anguished expressiveness, certainly laid out on a scale resonant with the famed Oistrakh accounts with Mravinsky and Mitropoulos. The exquisite lyricism of Staryk’s violin immediately makes us wonder what his conception in the Berg Concerto might offer. The fascination with the macabre enters into the second movement Scherzo, a coarsely rasping dance in quadruple time that invites intrusions from the winds and brass. The processional Passacaglia offsets the wildness of the Scherzo, incanting in a slow and solemn (Spanish) idiom that has the Staryk’s spinning out a long sweet melody that culminates in the extended, Bach-like cadenza that serves as a transition to the last movement, Burlesque (Allegro con brio). The Toronto Symphony battery turns on the ironic juices for this pagan movement whose dervish energies often recall Khachaturian as much as they do the savage gloom of Shostakovich. The consistent virility of execution sends both music and audience into another dimension, followed by demented applause.

—Gary Lemco




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