Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Canadian genius

Everyone raves about the Toronto-born violinist who gained fame as the 'King of Concertmasters', but whose solo career never reached the highest level his talent deserved. Steven Staryk is retired now, still teaching but mainly managing the release of a lifetime of music on disc, first with the 30-CD Staryk Anthology, and now with Steven Staryk: A Retrospective. The reviews for both have been phenomenal, and this seventh release in the latter series is a fine one with which to begin an examination of the Staryk Revival.

The Schumann Violin Concerto had an odd early history involving the composer's mental illness, the love triangle between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, clairvoyance, Nazis, and all sorts of other shenanigans. Check out the Wikipedia article, or better yet read about Jessica Duchen's novel Ghost Variations, to be published this summer. Steven Staryk's live 1983 performance with an excellent Toronto Festival Orchestra under Pierre Hetu is outstanding in every way except its sound, which is somewhat muffled, but serviceable. Staryk's performance is intense, electric. Perhaps if more people had heard it the current rehabilitation of the Schumann Violin Concerto might have happened sooner. I remember Pierre Hetu well, by the way, as the Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony beginning in 1973. I have a recollection of Staryk playing with the ESO at the Jubilee Auditorium during that period - I want to say the Mendelssohn, but can't be sure.

Next is another superb live performance, this time with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Mario Bernardi in a concert from 1981. The Walton Concerto is romantic and melodic, but the solo part (the composer wrote it for Heifetz) is fiendishly difficult. This concerto has somewhat better sound than the Schumann; all to the good.

The final work on this disc is very, very cool; a 1973 live recording of the Mendelssohn Concerto from my new home town, Victoria BC.  The mono sound from the outdoor (!) concert with the University of Victoria Symphony under George Corwin is again serviceable. Kudos to the student players from UVic, by the way. They must have been thrilled to play with such an accomplished soloist, and they acquitted themselves very well. Staryk zips through the work at a furious pace with hardly a note out of place. It's really quite remarkable.

A final note about Staryk. While reading more about him on the web I learned about the Symphony Six, a little known Canadian story from the black-list period. Read about it on Wikipedia. While these shameful events put a temporary crimp on Staryk's career, he was soon working again as concert-master with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. Finally he was back as concert-master at the TSO, where all was apparently forgiven. Did Staryk's brush with McCarthy play a role in the unfortunate cap on his solo career? Was it his success running orchestral strings as concert-master? Or did Fame just randomly slip on by when no one was looking? In any case we have this disc (and many others in these two series) to show us the true value of a Canadian artistic genius at the highest level.

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