This past weekend the world lost one of its greatest cellists. Hungarian-born Janos Starker died at the age of 88 after a long and distinguished career as an orchestral player, soloist and teacher. He was a child prodigy who gave his first performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto at age 14. His older brothers were murdered by the Nazis and Starker himself spent time in an internment camp.
Starker came to the United States in 1948 to take up the position of principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony. In 1952 he took up the same position with the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner. After six years he quit to concentrate on a solo career and teaching at Indiana University.
He recorded most of the important works for cello and he was especially renowned for his interpretation of Kodaly's Sonata for Solo Cello Op. 8. He recorded the work four times. I heard Starker play it live in the 1950s and it was an unforgettable experience. His virtuosity, beauty of tone and incredible concentration made a deep impression.
As a soloist Starker was commanding and mesmerizing. His stone-faced demeanor made him the Heifetz of the cello. Of his contemporaries Casals and Piatigorsky were far more emotional, but Starker's accuracy and command of style were often superior.
This video captures Starker in his prime playing the first movement of the Kodaly in Tokyo, July 7, 1988.
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