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On learning brass scales, and Starker's Brahms revisited,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

alice my name is keke and i play the trumpet in high school,but i'm not that good but i can play .i was wouding if if you new all the scales because i have a test on them but dont known them.

dear keke i am a cellist and am crap on brass also I cant even transpose since leaving music college (and i wasnt much good at it back then either just ask my longsuffering theory teacher) so you have asked the wrong person!!!!!!!!!!!!! very sorry to be so useless but i can tell you one good trick: recent research suggests that memorising ANYTHING is best just before you sleep so even while you think youre dreaming about being chased by a tiger your subconscious is actually working like mad on memorising the trumpet scale fingerings you were thinking of before your head hit the pillow!!!!!!!!!!!! this method is guaranteed or your money back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yours alice

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This is not a question but, rather, a comment. It's odd that you dislike Janos Starker's Brahms so much. For me, he gets the sonatas just about right: dark, introspective and somewhat objective. But then I don't like over-emotional Brahms (ever heard Gervase de Peyer playing the clarinet sonatas? -- horrible, ignores all Brahms's tempi and absolutely soaked in schmalz). If Starker is emotionally dyslexic (and you're in a better position to judge than I) then maybe I am as well!

Frank Cranmer

Dear Frank,

Good to hear from a new correspondent, though because I also find de Peyer's playing abysmal, you have got me seriously worried here. (I accompanied him decades ago, when chosen for the International Festival of youth orchestras International orchestra.)

What if I slated Starker's Brahms unfairly??? After all, it's been yonks since I heard them and during those years I have spent/wasted many hours playing professional baroque and classical cello, which has imbued me with even more respect for composers' intentions than I had in the first place. And Starker IS admirable for his insistence on same, though his interpretive views were so strong-minded that his pupils (especially the male ones) tended to come out sounding like little Starker clones: you could hear it a mile away. (They also tended towards black, grey or white turtle-necks, so they tried to look like little Starker clones as well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Prompted by your comment, therefore, I went back to my CD library, and hunted them up, feeling smugly that THIS is where all that CD reorganising was going to pay off. There they were: pre-baroque, baroque, classical, romantic, modern and post-modern, all gleaming in their neat little rows. And under Romantic (B's) what did I find? Tortelier's Brahms, yes and Slava's, but NO STARKER. Then I recalled that Katie had asked for a CD when she was learning the E minor and I had decided to loan her that one, in the (in this case well-founded) suspicion I might never get it back. B*gger!!!!!!

However, your mild reproach so troubled me that I sat down and hunted for other Starker recordings, and I am in the happy position of being able to observe that his Fauré Elegie displays a lack of warmth and the sound and too grainy a tone on the G and C, despite truly elegant shifts, his Milhaud far too much naked aggression for my taste, his Haydn D major first movement (despite a lovely and unscrawny texture at the top of the cello) has an extremely irritating tendency (especially in the second subject) to halt halfway through the phrase as if delicately hesitating as to whether or not it's worthful going on, a tendency intensified in the second movement. When we turned to the Schumann (admittedly a notoriously difficult piece to pull off) Starker's lack of forward propulsion within the line of the phrase makes it seem twice as long as usual. This may be Starker-code for 'musicality' but it seems to me to stress the lyrical at the cost of the witty as well as the more powerfully dramatic qualities in the work. Only in the second movement (what a gem of a piece!!!!!) does this gentle probing style actually work, and there he draws us into an intimate dialogue with the music. Coming out of it, the angularity of expression reasserts itself and we are back into all the arbitrariness of his phrase approach. Even his Saint-Saëns concerto, though luckily not over-flowery, lacks those little touches of piquancy and wit that can so ornament it.

And everywhere that tense and wiry quality of sound, that lack of sympathy with the natural voluptuousness of the cello. After leaving various Starker recordings on all afternoon I found I did not regret losing this performer's recordings of Brahms. I loaned someone his Kodaly solo sonata as well, and THAT I do regret, but not the Brahms. What could be less Brahmsian than the sound of Starker? And what is Brahms without that sunny warmth of sound????????????????

However, your thoughtful point remains. Could the fact that I disliked Starker be impacting on my memory of his Brahms? And shouldn't I have located a CD of same before mentioning it in my review of his memoir??

To which the answers are (a) very possibly, I'm ashamed to admit, and (b) yes indeedy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yours with new-found humility,

Copyright © 22 April 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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