Cellist Janos Starker, one of the great ascetics and purists in classical music today, demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of his approach with almost textbook clarity Saturday night at the Kennedy Center. Before the intermission, he played the Brahms Sonata in D. Op. '78 (transcribed by the composer from a much better-known and much better violin sonata); after it, he played the Kodaly Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, Op. 8, probably the finest music written for unaccompanied cello since Johann Sebastian Bach and certainly the most technically demanding piece in the solo cello repertoire.
The Brahms needs help - a performer who can read between and around the notes for the subtle shifts of tempo and tonal coloration, the atmosphere details of accent that cannot be written into the score but mean the difference between life and death for the music. All the Kodaly needs is someone who can play all the notes as written; but there aren't many of those.
Starker's brilliant Kodaly made his dry Brahams worth sitting through, but I can't imagine anything else that would have done it - except perhaps for the hilarious "Figaro" of Castelnuovo Tedesco, a wild parody of Rossini's "Largo al Factotum," which he played as his first encore.