Singing strings

A renowned teacher speaks through music.

STRING PLAYING IS usually compared to singing, but cellist Janos Starker's playing also suggests another analogy: He speaks with his instrument—his performances are more soliloquies than arias, and his "diction" is impeccable. Each note in a phrase is pointedly but not fussily articulated, sometimes with tiny hesitations between one and the next, making the music crackle with compelling emotional and intellectual authority.

Cellist Janos Starker

UW Campus, Meany Hall, December 7

If, of the cello's two grand masters, the Soviet emigr頍stislav Rostropovich is as famous for his political dissidence as for his miraculous playing, then by contrast Starker is its scholarly high priest. His commitment to teaching spans decades. Renowned for mentoring younger cellists, particularly at Indiana University, he's passed on the European traditions to dozens of the world's best players. It was Starker's appeal as a teacher that earned him an invitation to the UW School of Music this year as a visiting professor. And as long as he's in town, it would be a shame not to hear him in concert. So last Tuesday Starker joined Peter Er�nd the UW Symphony for Dvorak's Cello Concerto.

The Dvorak, the cello's grand Slavic epic, can certainly handle a little ham, but that's not Starker's way. Starker sometimes ended phrases abruptly, but their vigor was always convincing. In the concerto's final gesture, though, he surprised us with the opposite effect. The piece's unique coda doesn't drive to a pyrotechnic, "wow" finish, but unfolds in two glorious dimensions at once: The orchestra relaxes and expands, revealing one new vista after another, while the solo cello draws ever inward, growing deeper and more serene. When his final note approached, Starker reached for it dramatically, grasped it, and couldn't tear himself away even as the crescendoing orchestra submerged him in their closing fanfare.

The UW orchestra, by the way, just sounds better and better each time I hear them. Their playing was warm, poised, and crystalline in the concert opener, Liadov's Enchanted Lake, and full of splash and panache in a suite of excerpts from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet.

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