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Janos Starker: French Album
Francois FRANCOEUR (1698-1787)
Sonata in E major (arr. A. Trowell) [4:22]
Francois Couperin (1668-1733)
Pastorale (arr. Cassado) [2:54]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924) Apres un reve (arr. Casals) [3:09]
Papillon (for cello) op.77 [2:58]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Serenade No.8 of ‘Chansons Gaillardes’ (arr. M.Gendron) [2:24]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for cello and piano (1915) [11:31] - Prologue-Serenade-Finale
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piece en forme de Habanera (arr. Bazeloire) [3:10]
Leon Pommers (piano)
rec. by Period Recordings 1955 (mono)

This is a very worthy tribute to the world-renowned cellist Janos Starker, who died in April this year. Born in Budapest in 1924 into a Jewish family, he took up the cello early in life and became something of a child prodigy. His two brothers meanwhile took up the violin. As a child he heard Casals and later Feuermann, and both were a great source of inspiration to him. He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy. In 1938 he made his professional debut deputizing for an indisposed soloist at six hours notice in the Dvořák Concerto. During the war, due to Hungarian anti-semitism, he was forced to spend three months in a labour camp. Fortuitously he, his wife whom he married in 1944 and his parents were spared the fate of his two brothers who perished in the Holocaust. In 1948 he emigrated to the States and worked for a time as an orchestral musician. Perhaps the most high profile job in this role was as principal cellist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he worked under the tyrannical conductor Fritz Reiner. He later took up a teaching post at Indiana University, where he worked until the end of his life. He was truly the teacher/performer.
This is a very welcome issue in that this is the only account of four of the works on the disc in Starker’s discography. Of the other works, Fauré’s ‘Après un rêve’ and Ravel’s ‘Pièce en forme de Habañera’ were recorded in 1978 with the pianist Shigeo Neriki. Another recording of the Debussy Sonata exists from 1963 with his life-long collaborator, the pianist Gyorgy Sebok.
All the salient characteristics of Starker’s cello playing are manifested here. He utilizes a very focused tone, which some would consider lean. Intonation is pinpoint with dead-centre accuracy. Other features include a purity of tone, exquisite phrasing and a contained and not over-indulgent rubato.
This French Album was recorded by Period Recordings in 1955. The Francoeur is in two movements. Starker employs a rich vibrant tone in the slow movement, with elegant phrasing. There is crisp articulation in the subsequent fast movement. The Couperin is a delightful Pastorale in an arrangement by the Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassadó. In the Fauré pieces, Après un rêve is played with lyrical beauty. Papillon is scintillatingly capricious, but the middle tune has a burnished intensity. The most substantial work in the recital is the Debussy Sonata, a masterpiece noted for its brevity. Starker is able, in eleven minutes to encompass its emotional range and capture its Gallic flavour. It is a work that showcases his magnificent technique, utilizing left-hand pizzicato, spiccato, flautando bowing, false harmonics and portamenti. Finally the Ravel is distinguished with a wonderful sense of line.
High Definition Tape Transfers are to be commended for their work in sourcing out-of-copyright material mainly from the fifties and sixties, and making it available to the music-loving public. Perusing their catalogue, it is obvious they judiciously select distinguished recordings from the back catalogue which they deem worthy of preservation. The recordings are available as either individual custom-burned CDs or as Flac lossless downloads. The recordings are transferred from the original reel-to-reel tapes, in this case from a Double Track Mono 7.5ips tape, onto a Mitsui Gold Archival CD. I am delighted that the original cover art is included.
Devotees of great cello playing will find this a valuable addition to their collection although at only 30 minutes of music ( the duration of the LP), it leaves one wanting more.
This is a fitting tribute to a great cellist and I can only thank this company for restoring this valuable document for posterity.
Stephen Greenbank