Magazine article Czech Music

Josef Suk

Magazine article Czech Music

Josef Suk

Article excerpt

Asrael Funeral Symphony in C minor op. 27

The Czech Philharmonic, Sir Charles Mackerras conductor. Text: Cz., Eng., Ger., Fr. Recorded; live, April 2007, Rudolfinum, Prague. Released: 2011. TT: 60:01. DDD.

I CD Supraphon SU 4043-2.

There could be no more symbolic and dignified crown and conclusion to the series of recordings made by the late Sir Charles Mackerras with the Supraphon company than the release of this particular work by Suk. It was not in fact chronologically the conductor's last recording, since it was made at a concert of the Czech Philharmonic back in 2007, but nonetheless, after the two sets of his recordings of works by Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek and Martinu, which were released shortly after his death in 201 0, Supraphon could not have ended their Mackerrasian catalogue with a more persuasive title. The work has had its own life, in terms of its origins, its performance and above all its recordings on various media. The circumstances in which it was written are well-known. The young composer had just suffered two heavy blows in lite - the deaths of two people very close to him in just a short period. The first was the loss of his teacher and father-in-law Antonin Dvorak --that was the first impulse behind the writing of this unusual score. Then Suk's twenty-seven-year old wife died. The score changed, and was enlarged to include other painful passages, other internal struggles, before it could reach its final calming catharsis. The terrifying main theme emerges in the final passage in the major key as an expression of coming to terms with the tragedy that at the beginning sounds crushing, but later challenges man to overcome it and so leads him to gain new strength for his continuing journey through the woes and hardships of life. From its first performances in Suk's time the hour-long work has been very highly regarded and respected, both among audiences and musicians.


Hearing the name of the composer and title of the work, some of the oIder among us will immediately make the connection with Vaclav Talich. For us his legendary recording of 1953 was the first and for long years the only connection with this ravishing picture of misfortune and the striving to overcome it. Asrael was not, of course, in any way pushed into the background. It was performed from time to time, and new, mostly already stereophonic recordings appeared (in this country by Vaclav Neumann, Vladimir Valek, Jiri Belohlavek, and in the world by Rafael Kubelik, Libor Pesek and others). …

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