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Steven Staryk (violin) - A Retrospective
Full track-listings below
rec. 1961-2003
CENTAUR CRC3186-87 [70:31 + 73:31] CRC3203 [71:58] CRC 3211 [72:34]  CRC3222 [69:26] 

Toronto-born Steven Staryk, once dubbed ‘The King of Concertmasters’ - an appellation that doubtless he views with a certain ambiguity - has long since retired from active performance. Even so, this Canadian violinist, born of Ukrainian parents in 1932, still exercises a potent pull on fiddle fanciers who remember his art, whether it was as leader of Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic, Haitink’s Concertgebouw, back in Toronto, or via his solo appearances or recordings, of which there were a significant number. To those studio discs can be added a legion from his live repertory, of which a 30-CD collection has been issued. Centaur has taken six CDs’ worth now, and issued them commercially. I have the first four to hand in this review, though volumes five and six are missing.
As readers of Thane Lewis’s patchily edited ‘Fiddling with Life; the Unusual Journey of Steven Staryk’ (Mosaic Press, 2000) will know, the subject of the biography is a trenchant and analytical observer of the musical times through which he lived. He has firmly founded views, often pithily expressed, and invariably worth reading. He talks of some of the performances enshrined in Centaur’s discs, but it’s in any case enjoyable to simply sit back and audition the first four discs.
The first disc opens with Paganini’s First Concerto, Herman Michael conducting in 1969. The recording is very boomy which imparts a blowsy quality, but Staryk compensates with playing of digital precision, spot-on intonation, stylistic awareness and a confident surmounting of the harmonics. His playing here is dashingly virile, and spirited in every way. The companion concerto on the first disc of this twofer is the Beethoven, with Haitink directing the orchestra Staryk led, the Concertgebouw, live in September 1961. Unfortunately there is a real demerit here, and that’s the muffly recording which promotes congealed lower strings. The solo violin emerges reasonably well from this morass - one can make out the opening broken octaves emerging from the stygian gloom - but the orchestral tuttis recess into the cavernous acoustic. There’s pitch lurch briefly during the second movement. The performance, so far as one can tell, is proficient but not especially engaging.
Mozart’s Turkish Concerto (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra and John Avision, 1972) is rather more personalised in terms of finger position changes and phrasing than a number of Staryk’s other performances in these four CDs. It’s not wholly expressive but it’s certainly not aloof. The Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso was recorded in the studio in London in 1962. Douglas Gamley conducts the London Festival Orchestra. According to Staryk the sessions didn’t go well and Gamley, a pianist, was not especially effective on the rostrum. At any rate it’s a torrid recording; hardly the last word in subtlety. Fortunately this disc - and the first volume - ends with a powerful and convincing performance of Shostakovich’s Concerto in A minor. Andrew Davis directs the Toronto Symphony in 1986. Staryk has a lot of time for Davis, who was the musical director in Toronto when Staryk was the orchestra’s leader, and their collaboration is a fine one.
Volume two is a pot-pourri of sweetmeats, finger-busters and encore material; twenty pieces in all, recorded over a 40 plus year period and sporting an array of piano colleagues - seven in fact. There is a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing in this disc, in which the various states of preservation of the source material is very audibly evident. It’s a disc into which one should dip to experience some of his more piquant repertoire. Staryk plays quite a deal of Kreisler, with inconsistent results; his Liebeslied is overstressed whilst Liebesfreud sports plenty of personality, as well as some strong rhythmic displacements. His RavelPièce en forme d'Habanera is over-vibrated and a little arch, stylistically speaking, but there’s a juicy Thaïs Meditation. There are a couple of pieces by Tchaikovsky in which he’s joined by members of the Concertgebouw, and the slow movement of the Schumann Violin Concerto where he’s partnered by Gamley. From 1980 we also have the Romance from Wieniawski’s Second Concerto. These are both strange pieces of programming. If the complete concertos were taped, let’s hear them, especially the Wieniawski. I liked the small excerpt from Bartók’s Romanian Dances. Then there’s the finale; Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen in which Gamley and his London Festival Orchestra segue with Primas Stefan and his Royal Tziganes in a composite recording; 1959 and 1967 respectively. This is bizarre, especially as I believe that Gamley recorded the whole thing independently in 1959, and the Royal Tziganes recorded only the first part on their own. One final footnote: the Royal Tziganes included such well known goulash guzzlers as Jack Brymer and Frederick Riddle.  

Bach occupies volume 3. The A minor Concerto (Concertgebouw and Haitink, live, 1961) is somewhat backwardly recorded. Staryk is on record as having said that if he’d been recording Bach now, he’d have used a baroque fiddle and bow and employed historically-informed practice. His playing back in 1961 is astute but a touch austere. The E major concerto was self-conducted in Vancouver in 1975. The spread studio acoustic is not kind to Staryk’s tone. The Sonatas were recorded with harpsichordist Kenneth Gilbert in Montreal in 1967. These derive from commercial recordings though there’s a little waver on the tape briefly. The performances are solid. The Partita No.2 is another composite. The first four movements were taped in concert in London in 1962 whilst the Chaconne was recorded in a live performance in Toronto in 1978. In the Chaconne there is a feeling, sometimes, of a strident metricality. Though not without merit, this disc teaches us comparatively little about Staryk the musician, even in the case of the Partita.
The last disc is, for me, the pick of the quartet. This is an all-Prokofiev affair. The two sonatas pair Staryk with fellow Canadian Mario Bernardi in two studio (not live) undertakings in London in 1966. Denis Preston was the producer, a man better known for his Lansdowne Jazz series, but who wanted to break into the lucrative and thriving London classical market. The ensemble between Staryk and Bernardi is first class and the playing is imaginative, tonally varied and structurally conscious. The performances were originally released on Ace of Diamonds LP. The First Concerto sees Staryk teamed with his Concertgebouw chief, Haitink. Staryk and Haitink in this concerto is not, perhaps, an obvious fit but the results speak for themselves. Yes, the solo violin seems to move about acoustically, but dispute the close miking, there’s suave affinity shown to the concerto and there’s a really scintillating scherzo to enjoy.
If I get the chance to audition the remaining volumes I’ll add my thoughts to this appraisal. In the meantime collectors may want to pick and choose - or, alternatively, ‘collar the lot’ and get all six. If the former, I suggest you start with the Prokofiev volume 4, sample the miscellaneous volume 2, and enjoy the Paganini in volume 1. Then move outward.
Documentation is rather patchy and I would have appreciated far greater text to support this series. Still, it does offer entry to the world of Steven Staryk on disc, and that’s no bad thing.
Jonathan Woolf  

Masterwork Index: Violin concertos of Bach ~~ Beethoven ~~ Shostakovich
Volume 1
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1849)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 [27:49]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 [42:41]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No.5 in A Major, K. 219 [27:08]
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 [8:51]
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto 1 in A Minor, Op. 99 [37:32]
Norddutscher Rundfunk Symphony/Herman Michael, recorded live 1969 (Paganini)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink, recorded live 1961 (Beethoven)
CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra/John Avision, recorded live 1972 (Mozart)
London Festival Orchestra/Douglas Gamley, recorded 1962 (Saint-Saens)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis, recorded 1986 (Shostakovich)
CENTAUR CRC 3186-87 [70:31 + 73:31] 

Volume 2
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Liebesleid [3:30]
Liebesfreud [3:18]
Schön Rosmarin [1:48]
Gypsy Caprice [4:38]
Tambourin Chinois [3:36]
Caprice Viennois [4:21]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Mazurka Op. 19, No. 2 [3:15]
Romance from Concerto No. 2 [4:42]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme d'Habanera [2:35]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Chanson Triste (arr. J. Moelker) [2:52]
None But the Lonely Heart (arr. J. Moelker) [2:26]
Valse Sentimentale (arr. Klopcic) [2:19]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Albumblattt: Marguerite (trans. Kreisler) [3:10]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Concerto in D Minor - slow movement [4:11]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Meditation from Thaïs [5:22]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Berceuse, Op. 16 [3:28]
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Pe Loc and Buciumeana [2:34]
Gloomy Sunday (Utuoso Vasarnap) [2:42]
Pablo SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen [7:59]
Lisa Bergman, Jane Corwin, Adela Kotowska, Robin Wood, Raymond Parnell, Laurent Philippe, Robert Linzon (pianos)
Members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Tchaikovsky, Massenet)
CBC Vancouver Studio Orchestra (Wieniawski)
London Festival Orchestra/Douglas Gamley
Primas Stefan and his Royal Tziganes (Gloomy Sunday)
London Festival Orchestra/Douglas Gamley with Primas Stefan and his Royal Tziganes (Sarasate)
rec. 1961-2003
CENTAUR CRC3203 [71:58]
Volume 3
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor BWV1041 [13:45] ¹
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E-Major, BWV 1042 [17:04] ²
Sonata in E minor BWV1023 [8:17] ³
Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020 [9:30] ³
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [23:56]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink ¹
Vancouver Baroque Orchestra/Steven Staryk ²
Kenneth Gilbert (harpsichord) ³
rec. 1961 (Concerto No.1), 1962 and 1978 (Partita - composite performance); 1967 (Sonatas), 1975 (Concerto No.2)
CENTAUR CRC 3211 [72:34] 

Volume 4
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 19 [20:29]
Violin Sonata No. 1 in F, Op. 80 [26:46]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D, Op. 94 bis [22:10]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Mario Bernardi (piano)
rec. live 1961 (Concerto), 1966 (sonatas)
CENTAUR CRC 3222 [69:26]