Today it is difficult to understand that despite the tremendous Bach renaissance that took place in the 19th century many compositions by the Cantor of St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig had been underrated. The Cello Suites, for example, have been regarded for almost 300 years as purely a set of tricky etudes that every virtuoso in the making simply must tackle. What recording engineers and their equipment can bring to the ears is quite astounding. So it was back in the Thirties with Pablo Casal’s legendary recording against which every cellist is measured today and to whose perfection he aspires.
Janos Starker’s recording of the Suites from 1965 makes a lasting impression on the listener, even when compared with other recordings from the digital era, and even record producers who are well used to recorded excellence have been highly impressed. For Charlotte Gilbert of the Mercury record label, these recording sessions were one of five truly great events in all her 20 years of recording experience.
He moved to the United States in 1948 and became principle cellist with the Dallas Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under (also Hungarian) conductors Fritz Reiner, Antal Dorati and George Szell. His solo career bloomed through the 1960’s and now boasts an impressive recording catalogue of 165 works.
Janos Starker recorded Bach’s Cello Suites five times, two of which are available on CD. The first in 1965 for Mercury Living Presence, was a triumph. He set his reputation for technical perfection, sensitive phrasing and a supreme expressive intensity.
Many regard this as the finest recording since Casals resurrected them a lifetime ago. While still technically brilliant, and with a maturity of years, it retains the most important Bach quality – that of humanity. This set is a profoundly moving experience.
Don’t let the technicalities put you off. Yes this is deep Bach. But this is also very accessible Bach. This is fun Bach. This is Bach, the sublime, played by one of the cello’s best performers.