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Starker's belated NYPO début performing a Haydn Concerto came in late 1972, though he'd arrived in the USA in 1950. He had been passed over during the long Bernstein New York reign (1958-1969) for reasons that were never too clear. Starker had never played with the Philadelphia Orchestra after a row with Eugene Ormandy back in 1950. The cellist also had feuds with Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan, apparently not being the least bit bothered by the reputations of his opponents.

The current early (1950s vintage) recordings, unavailable on CD till now, re-emerge remarkably, the more so considering they were captured in Peter Bartok's basic studio (Steinway Bldg, West 57th Street). Starker himself decided on the takes, playbacks, and microphone placement. His then wife, Eva, followed the score and Bartók did everything else. Period Records' instigator was fellow Hungarian, William Avar.

Disc No 1's highpoint is the Boccherini Cello Concerto No 9 in B flat G482 (arranged by Friedrich Grützmacher (1832-1903)). A perfectly acceptable budget version with Raphael Wallfisch and the Northern Chamber Orchestra includes Concertos 9-12 (Naxos 8.557589) while the du Pré/ECO/Barenboim version (EMI boxed set) has enjoyed continuing popularity.

Nonetheless, for sheer artistry and a consummate affinity with Boccherini's gracious Rococo style -- the Italian-born composer, 1743-1805, spent most of his working life on tour and in Madrid -- Starker is unrivalled [listen -- CD1 track 2, 0:00-1:42].

It's interesting that in 2003 Boccherini gained global exposure virtually overnight. At the end of Peter Weir's blockbuster movie Master and Commander, fictitious British sea captain Jack Aubrey (actor Russell Crowe, violin) and Ship's surgeon, Dr Stephen Maturin (actor Paul Bettany, cello) are pictured playing a reduction of Boccherini's La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid ('Night Music of the Streets of Madrid') No 6 Op 30 (String Quintet in C, G324, orchestrated with two violins, viola, two cellos).

Following the film's release the internet was overwhelmed with moviegoers intent on identifying the music, its composer, and its availability.

Twenty three years earlier (1980) the same Boccherini music was heard on the soundtrack of Cruising, an inconsequential New York cop movie featuring Al Pacino and Paul Sorvino. The music was barely noticed.

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Copyright © 25 September 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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