Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonate für Viola da gamba und Cembalo Nr. 1 G-Dur BWV 1027 [13:15]
Suite Nr.5 c-Moll für Violoncello solo BWV 1011 [25:12]
Chromatische Fantasie und Fuge für Cembalo d-Moll BWV 903 [13:19]
Sonate für Viola da gamba und Cembalo Nr. 3 g-Moll BWV 1029 [14:52]
János Starker (cello)
Zuzana Růžičková (harpsichord)
rec. 22 May 1971, Schwetzinger Schloss, Rokokotheater
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.726 [66:51]
Here is another valuable historical document from Hänssler
Classic, as they continue to mine the rich archive of the Schwetzinger
SWR Festspiele. The festival was founded in 1952 and still makes its
presence felt today. Its aim is to ‘commission new things, rediscover
the old, (and) give up-and-coming youngsters a chance’. Fortunately,
for future generations, there is a well-established tradition of documenting
its concerts and broadcasting them to countries all over the world.
It is laudable that this German label are tapping into this important
resource for their Edition Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele now running into
Janos Starker (1924-2013) was born in Budapest in 1924 into a Jewish
family, and took up the cello early in life, becoming something of a
child prodigy. As a child he heard Casals and later Feuermann. Both
were a great source of inspiration. 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 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 Fritz
Reiner. In 1958 he embarked on a solo career and later took up a teaching
post at Indiana University, where he was renowned amongst his students
for being a fierce taskmaster and uncompromising perfectionist. He remained
in this post for the remainder of his life. He made his mark as one
of the foremost cellists of the twentieth century.
A distinguishing feature of Starker’s cello playing is his lean, focused
tone. Intonation is characteristically immaculate and noted for its
dead-centre accuracy. His phrasing is always natural appearing neither
contrived nor mannered. Rubato, when applied, is tastefully executed
and never over-indulgent.
Zuzana Růžičková (b.1927), is one of the greatest harpsichordists
of her generation. She was born in Plzen in the Czech Republic. Early
expectations of studying with Wanda Landowska in Paris were thwarted
by the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. As a Jew, she was interned
in 1942, together with other members of her family, in Theresienstadt.
Whilst there she received tuition from Gideon Klein. In 1943 she was
transferred to Auschwitz, and a year later to the death camps at Bergen-Belsen.
After liberation, she returned to Plzen, where she later married the
Kalabis (1923-2006). She began teaching at the Prague Academy in
1951, only becoming a professor there in 1990 after the fall of Communism.
Her pupils included Christopher Hogwood and Mahan Esfahani. Over a ten
year period she recorded the entire works of J.S. Bach for the harpsichord.
She retired from public performance in 2004.
Both Starker and Růžičková were renowned for their Bach playing,
and this concert testifies to the coming together of like minds. The
result is a programme of convincing interpretations, in which they appeared,
not only as a duo, but also in solo items. On the back of their shared
concert-giving, the two artists later recorded Bach’s three Viola da
Gamba Sonatas for Supraphon. Starker also set down a cycle for Mercury
with his friend and accompanist György Sebok.
Unfortunately here the duo sonatas do not fare as well as the solo pieces.
Due to misplaced positioning of microphones, the harpsichord is too
far back in the sound picture and a comfortable balance between the
two instruments is not achieved. The result is a harpsichord sound that
is recessed, thin and lacking in power.
The cellist chose the Suite Nr.5 in C minor BWV 1011 for his solo contribution.
No stranger to this work, there are four complete cycles listed in his
discography. Starker’s full-bodied tone, rhythmic pulse and technical
mastery make this a compelling reading, tapping into the spiritual richness
and profundity of Bach’s writing.
Zuzana Růžičková truly establishes her credentials in the
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. The technically dazzling flourishes that
begin the work make you sit up and listen. In the fugue, the polyphonic
lines are expertly delineated and the rhythm throughout is tight and
buoyant. Unlike the sonata items, the harpsichord is brought out of
the shadows and makes its presence felt.
Despite the less-than-ideal instrumental balance in the duos, this release
showcases some very fine Bach playing by two masters.