Hungarian cellist Janos Starker has died. He was 88. Born in Budapest July 5, 1924, he was a child prodigy, giving his first concert at six. At just 14, he was asked to step in, on three hours notice, to perform the Dvorak Cello Concerto, one of the most difficult works in the cello repertoire. He succeeded with aplomb. Later in 1945, when he was 21 and the war was almost over, he was sent to a German detention camp but survived. A year later, after coming in second in a competition, Starker went to Paris and spent a year studying and further improving an already impeccable technique. He came to the U.S. in 1948 and remained her, teaching and performing with several major American orchestras.
I have featured his 1962 recording of the Bach Cello Suites many times on KCRW airwaves, first when I hosted Morning Becomes Eclectic 1979-1991. Starker had a different sound than superstar Yo-Yo Ma. But just as formidable. It was a much earlier recording that pre-dated Ma’s rise to stardom; along with Yo-Yo’s, it’s still my favorite of the many recordings of the Bach suites. It’s wonderful to follow the melodic line and architecture of these beautiful and timeless suites, and listening to them you hit a double jackpot: the genius of both Bach and Janos Starker.
Here is a video of Starker performing Bach: