Josef Suk (1929) is the direct heir of the musical genius of two great Czech composers - Antonin Dvorak and Josef Suk - from whom he is directly descended. Since 1960 he has won the Grand Prix of the Parisian Charles Cros Academy four times; and from this time he is soloist with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1972 he was awarded the Edison Prize for his recording of J. S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, and in 1974 he received the "Wiener Flotenuhr" for his recording of Mozart's Violin Concertos. Since 1980 he is a Professor at the Vienna Academy of Music.
Following the collections of symphonies (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Kletzki, SU 4051-2) and violin sonatas (Suk, Panenka, SU 4077-2), Supraphon is now releasing the complete Beethoven concertante pieces. All of them (including the Triple Concerto and the genre-unique Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra) came into being within a mere sixteen years, between 1793 and 1809. Although Beethoven deemed the piano "an imperfect instrument", his five piano concertos form one of the cornerstones of his oeuvre and represent a significant landmark in this genre.
Along with the increasing frequency that Josef Suk's Symphony in C minor, Op. 27, "Asrael," is performed and recorded, it's great to see it has finally been released as a hybrid SACD. Though the legendary 1952 recording by Vaclav Talich remains the ne plus ultra for devotees of this searing symphonic requiem, it was recorded in mono, and by virtue of its technology has become a historical document that will be sought out mostly by aficionados. Newcomers to Suk's towering work will be aided in appreciation by the fact that Ondine's DSD recording is as clear and deep as always, and none of the details of the elaborate score are lost.
The steady increase in recordings of his music has now established Suk as one of the great musical poets of the early 20th century. Too much is made of his affinities with his teacher and father-in-law, Dvorák; for his own part, Dvorák never imposed his personality on his pupils and Suk's mature music owes him little more than a respect for craft and an extraordinarily well developed ear for orchestral colour. His affinities in the five-movement A Summer's Tale, completed in 1909 – a magnificent successor to his profound Asrael Symphony – reflect Debussy and parallel the music of his friend Sibelius and Holst, but underpinning the musical language is a profound originality energising both form and timbre.
Mackerras's recording joins a select band: Šejna's vintage performance on Supraphon and Pešek's inspired rendition with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; his is an equal to them both and the Czech Philharmonic's playing is both aspiring and inspiring.
Joseph Suk's Ripening is one of the most amazing of all post-Romantic orchestral works. It is immensely complex in its structure: a celestial introduction is followed by a cogent progress of scherzos and slow movements, of funeral marches and fugues, all concluded by a serene coda. Yet the work is immediately comprehensible as a musical drama, made clear through the coherence of the thematic and harmonic material. Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic perform like modern-day deities. They fall short of the heights of Talich and the Czech Philharmonic, but Talich gave the work its premiere. Nonetheless, Pesek gives Ripening his very considerable all: his concentration holds the gigantic structure together as a single arch. Plus, his players articulate every instrumental detail, right down to the beatific wordless women's choir at the work's close. Highly recommended.
Dvorak's pupil and son-in-law Josef Suk was a fine violinist and a modest, highly capable composer known chiefly for a charming but unadventurous Serenade for Strings composed in his teens. But Dvorak's death in 1904 inspired him to the greatest creative effort of his life – an intensely emotional, richly elaborated memorial symphony, lasting an hour and named "Asrael" for the Islamic angel of death. The emotional content of the work became intensified during its composition when Suk's wife (Dvorak's daughter), Otylka, died when she was only 27, and "Asrael" became an elegy for father and daughter. The full power of this work is felt in this recording (Virgin 7-91221-2) by Libor Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
The music of Josef Suk, pupil of Dvorák and married to the elder composer’s daughter, is only now beginning to be recognized for its true worth. Presented here are three relatively early works, brimming with youthful enthusiasm but already showing considerable individuality, a highly developed approach to structure, and, occasionally, a touch of the melancholy introspection which was to inform many of the composer’s later works. A talented violinist, Suk lends to his chamber compositions a true understanding of the genre, while his thoroughly ‘Czech’ musical upbringing ensures strong representation for the folk and dance influences to be found in the music of many of his contemporaries.
"…The committed playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in both works exemplifies their respect both for Belohlavek as arguably the finest interpreter of Czech music alive today and their enthusiasm for the composer's regrettably still neglected output. This SACD is a mandatory purchase for lovers of Suk's opulent scores and audiophiles alike." ~sa-cd.net
"…This new Belohlavek version gives us the best of both worlds by combining nobility of utterance and a passionate advocacy of this stirring music in glorious 5.0 multi-channel sound.
The committed playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in both works exemplifies their respect both for Belohlavek as arguably the finest interpreter of Czech music alive today and their enthusiasm for the composer's regrettably still neglected output. This SACD is a mandatory purchase for lovers of Suk's opulent scores and audiophiles alike." ~sa-cd.net