The Janos Starker-Menahem Pressler show came to the Johns Hopkins University Saturday night in the first concert of the Shriver Hall Concert Series' 25th year and brought to mind how eloquently the two contradicted an old ditty by Walter Learned:
"This world is a difficult world, indeed,
And people are hard to suit,
And the man who plays on the violin
Is a bore to the man with the flute."
Before a full appreciative house, the rather stern-looking cellist Starker and his frequent piano partner Pressler, every pore animated, made fine music together respecting each other's styles in a 90-minute concert of Brahms, Heiden and Beethoven duet sonatas. And bored, the audience was not.
In their playing of Ludwig von Beethoven's "Sonata No. 3 in A Major," their teamwork was evident throughout but was especially impressive in the second, scherzo movement. They neatly ended several exquisitely sounding passages of the main theme and, after pauses, picked up the bright threads just as cleanly.
Starker's cello spoke the optimistic language of Beethoven of 1809 and naturally commanded much of the attention. Starker, one of the world's finest cellists, was back in town after a 10-year absence. Beethoven's harmonies flowed through his bow into the joyful and even playful piece and lit up the hall. Pressler, hunched shoulders almost aquiver, performed invitingly with friendly spirit but showed a few rough scale passages.
Starker opened the sonata with the clear baritone tones of a short adagio to the allegro movement. Pressler, frequently checking the cellist's movements, followed or led passages accordingly, although he says of Starker and himself, after scores of recitals, "He knows me and I know him, although there may be a few liberties." If so, it mattered litle. The melodic third movement warmly ended the evening.
But not quite. After a few bows and smiles from both musicians, Starker brought his cello back on stage and announced the encore to sighs: the andante slow movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Sonata in G Minor." There was plenty for Pressler as well as Starker in the lush Romantic section. Finally, after more bows, Starker signaled the end of the evening by leaving with his music under arm.
Bernhard Heiden, their Indiana University colleague who preceded both at Bloomington, wrote the first-half closing piece, "Sonata," for the duo in 1958, not long after Pressler, then Starker, came to Indiana. Heiden, now retired, turns 80 this year. The cellist and pianist played the short Hindemith-influenced work energetically, each movement ending with Starker beautifully playing long tenor or baritone tones.
Johannes Brahms' "Sonata for Cello and Piano in E Major" began the evening with the Brahmsian somberness, but the minuet and some fast fugue passages were expressively played for the most part and got the evening moving.
Speaking of which, by yesterday Pressler, doing 140 yearly recitals and concerts, some with the Beaux Art Trio, had flown to Miami for one, and Starker, still doing 40 a year, had flown to California for four at Stanford University.