Monthly Archives: May 2006

Starker on trial


Tempted to buy something I don’t really need from Amazon.com in order to utilize the free shipping for orders greater than $25, I’ve spent some time browsing some recordings of Bach’s cello suites. A favorite recording over the last 8 or 10 years has been Janos Starker’s Mercury edition, which probably first came out on LP in the 1970’s and was re-released on CD in 1991. Unfortunately this recording is now in my brother’s possession (I suppose it is his) and my scruples don’t allow for copying of his CD.

The Mercury recording is one that I’ve listened to time and again. “Listen to” is such a weak verb, however, for my relationship with this music. Just as Karl Haas was a companion of sorts with his Adventures in Good Music every weeknight at 8:00 during the long evenings studying during my first and second years of medical school, these recordings have accompanied me in life. Replete with detail and grace, rich in personality (which in Starker’s case is of course more than a big mellow tone and lots of rubato…his playing utilizes nasal–and at times even tinny–tones and sparing vibrato), and far more nuanced than most recordings I’ve encountered, the scope and magnitude of these works contrasts sharply with the visual restraint of a lone musician on a bare stage.

It should be no suprise, then, that I read with great interest others’ reviews of the Mercury recordings and the newer RCA recordings Starker made in 1997. I’m having trouble deciding between the two recordings: the younger, more technically perfect and artistically nuanced Starker versus the older, wiser, more reflective Starker.

A few samples of the reviewers’ comments… the negative ones displease me. On the other hand, perhaps the authors of those comments don’t deserve to appreciate Starker the way I do.

  • “…there is a pleasing ‘thickness’ to the performances by Ma and Starker…”
  • “…[Starker] remarks, ‘Playing Bach is a never-ending quest for beauty, as well as in some sense, the truth…As the years and decades go by, the understanding grows while the technical means weaken.'”
  • “A fitting backdrop for any epiphany…”
  • “…sound is very dry and often thin .” (Mercury recordings)
  • “He often chooses not to vibrate certain notes, seemingly arbitrarily. And he clearly has no concept of the piece as a polyphonic work, trying (and often failing) to make smooth melodic lines when there are none to be found.”
  • “Starker’s Mercury set of the suites is, for most cellists, the gold standard.”
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One quick post

I have to apologize to those faithful friends and family members who continue checking my blog regularly, despite the paucity of posts. (“I like that alliteration…all those L’s!” John, this is for you.) I do intend to keep this thing up; it’s just that some seasons of life are busier than others. Lately I’ve been trying to read anesthesia, do some online courses for my residency in New York, plan my next month, prepare for the USMLE Step III, start thinking about getting ready to move, and spend time with some of my friends for the last time before leaving this Texas town I’ve grown to love over the last five years. And oh yes, continue my 70-hour a week job of being an intern.

Okay, so “grown to love” is a little cheesy, but it’s still a great city, and God’s blessed me with many dear friends here. I went running tonight with my iPod shuffle, and after listening to Heifetz’ recording of the Sibelius violin concerto, a rather sentimental bittersweet pop song came up next. One that reminded me that although there are many exciting adventures to come in New York City, I’m leaving a lot behind.

Before I sign off for the night, I wanted to share a picture of my brother & best friend David. This is on the rooftop of an apartment building in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

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