Saturday, August 30, 2008

Josef Suk

Ever heard of Josef Suk? I hadn't. What a sap I was, because this turn-of-the-last-century Czeck composer now seems to me on the same level as other late-Romantic luminaries such as Sibelius, Janacek and Smetana.

A pupil of Dvorak, Suk's work has been described as a mid-way point between Suk's teacher and Mahler, and that seems about right; it recalls the slightly conservative (though quite beautiful) melodies of Dvorak mixed with progressive instrumentation and unpredictable twists and sonic colorings which recall or look forward to Mahler.

The disc I purchased (actually a two-disc set) contains three orchestral works: the Asrael Symphony, Podhadka, and the Serenade for Strings. The writing is highly emotional work; the Symphony is informed by both the death of Dvorak and Suk's wife, Otilka (at the age of twenty-seven), and the Serenade contains exquisite passages weighed down by melancholy.

Anyway, I've listened to the CD at least ten times over the past several months. The recordings are given what are probably definitive interpretations by Jiri Belohlavek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and the production is top-notch.

Originally a Chandos recording from 1992, I purchased a copy of the CD licensed, in 1998, to the Musical Heritage Society. MHS no longer offers it, but you can order the Chandos recording (with more beautiful cover art) on Amazon here:

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