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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750)
Suite No. 1 in G major BWV1007 (1720)
Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV1008 (1720)
Suite No. 3 in C major BWV1009 (1720)
Suite No. 4 in E Flat major BWV1010 (1720)
Suite No. 5 in C minor BWV1011 (1720)
Suite No. 6 in D major BWV1012 (1720)
Sonata in G major BWV1027 (1720)
Sonata in D major BWV1028 (1720)
Janos Starker (cello) and Gyorgy Sebok (Piano – BWV 1027 & 28)
Recorded 15th April 1963 (Suite No.2), 15th and 17th April 1963 (Suite No. 5), 7th September 1965 (Suite No. 1), 7th & 8th September 1965 (Suite No. 6), 21st & 22nd December 1965 (Suites 3 & 4), and 16th April 1963 (Sonatas), in Ballroom Studio A, Fine Recording, New York, U.S.A.
MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE 470 644-2 [69’08" + 70’28"]


Many years ago, when Janos Starker was much younger, he was reputed to have stated during an interview that he was "the best cellist in the world." I am sure he did not win too many admirers from this, but he was at least Dorati’s choice for first cello in his Dallas Symphony orchestra, and later Reiner’s choice for the same position at the Metropolitan Opera. When Reiner moved to Chicago to take up his position there Starker was his choice again for leader of the cello section in the Chicago Symphony.

Before moving to the U.S.A., Starker had already recorded the six cello suites of J.S. Bach for Walter Legge which was released on EMI, (formerly available on EMI 568485-2).

These current performances were recorded for Wilma Fine in late 1965 and he recorded a third set for RCA in 1972. The Mercury recordings are considered by many to be his best, and now they have been released in SACD format, there should be no reason at all why lovers of fine cello playing should not snap them up. I am sure that the Universal deletion axe will fall on them in the not too distant future. As usual, the left, right and centre tracks are presented in that layout on the surround disc. Also, as before, there is no difference between the CD version and the earlier two channel issue.

All six suites are very distinguished performances with Starker’s seriousness in this music showing through. The fast dances are played with a repressed humour, not at all like the overt virtuosity of an artist such as Piatigorsky, for example. The first movements of the Suites (No. 6 in particular) have a wonderful warmth of feeling about them which makes for a very satisfying listening experience.

The Cello Suites are written to a semi-standard format, each having a Praeludium, followed by an Allemande, Courante and Sarabande. The Suites all end with a Gigue, and before that a Menuet (1, 2), Bourrée (Nos, 3, 4), or Gavotte (Nos. 5, 6).

Starker’s virtuosity is never in doubt and it is all brought to the aid of the music, whilst the Mercury recording captures every nuance of the soloist’s playing. So often in solo string recordings the proceedings are ruined by either loud sniffs and other nasal sounds together with squeaks and slides of fingers on strings. There is a minimum of this here, and whilst you are aware of the mechanics of the playing, their presence is so small that listening pleasure is not affected.

Janos Starker is joined by Gyorgy Sebok for the two Cello Sonatas (BWV1027 and 1028), and although these are not ‘correct’ by period performance standards (should be a harpsichord) there is not one criticism I would level at this standard of chamber playing. It is as though each musician understands completely what the other wants, and is able to deliver this exactly.

John Phillips


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