This performance of the fiery Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 24, of Josef Suk, with violinist Christan Tetzlaff catching the full impact of the irregular form with its dramatic opening giving out into a set of variations, is impressive. And Tetzlaff delivers pure warm melody in the popular Romance in F minor, Op. 11, of Dvorák. But the real reason to acquire this beautifully recorded Ondine release is the performance of the Dvorák Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53, a work of which there are plenty of recordings, but that has always played second fiddle (if you will) to the Brahms concerto. Tetzlaff and the Helsinki Philharmonic under John Storgårds create a distinctive and absorbing version that can stand with the great Czech recordings of the work. Sample anywhere, but especially the slow movement, where Tetzlaff's precise yet rich sound, reminiscent for those of a certain age of Henryk Szeryng, forms a striking contrast with Storgårds' glassy Nordic strings. In both outer movements as well, Tetzlaff delivers a warm yet controlled performance that is made to stand out sharply.
Josef Suk (1874-1935), student and son-in-law of Antonin Dvorák, is one of music's hidden treasures. At the beginning of his career, as in the Six Piano Pieces, he wrote a reasonable facsimile of his teacher's music. The first of these pieces, "Love Song," is the best known of the set, but it's not the only beautiful one. "Moods," even less familiar music, is similarly lovely. By the time he wrote About Mother, Suk had been through the experience that was to transform his life: the early death of his greatly beloved wife, Otilie.
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.
The 11 works Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) created for piano trio make up a group of pieces equally remarkable as his 16 string quartets. With over half of them written before 1800, prior to the composer's turning 30, they clearly reveal his creative flights and struggles, first and foremost serving to attest to the grand formation of Beethoven's compositional principles and the attainment of his apex. The present 4-CD album features the Suk Trio, who soon after their establishment in 1951 gained international renown and recognition. The recordings of Beethoven's piano trios for Japan's Nippon Columbia, completed within a short timeframe, from June 1983 to April 1984, were made by the mature ensemble when it included the violinist Josef Suk, the cellist Josef Chuchro and the pianist Josef Hála, who in 1980 had replaced Jan Panenka.
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. While their reading is suffused with a feeling for the work's myriad orchestral colours, they recognise that Suk's music is much more than atmosphere. In particular they excel in their handling of the drama and overwhelming emotional urgency of this remarkable, big-boned symphonic poem.
The two Serenades ‘sung’ by the more rapturously Oistrakh-like Kang are sentimental and are recorded with rich immediacy. The Six Humoresques also arrive courtesy of Kang. These are magical bonbons - each weighted and balanced to perfection even though I favour the rawer vintage set glowingly recorded by Rosand and still available on Vox. True Sibelians must not miss these works and Kang and his orchestra do catch these silvery spells and confident little drinking songs - pride and eloquence, seduction and midnight poetry haunt these pages and it's all one especially well.
The Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, is the last solo concerto by Antonín Dvořák. It was written in 1894 for his friend, the cellist Hanuš Wihan, but was premiered by the English cellist Leo Stern. The Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90, B. 166, (also called Dumky trio from the subtitle Dumky) is a composition by Antonín Dvořák for piano, violin and cello. It is among the composer's best-known works. At the same time it is a prominent example for a piece of chamber music deviating strongly from the customary form of classical chamber music – both in terms of the number of movements and of their formal construction.
The Benda family has occupied an important and continuing place in music in Germany for some 250 years. The founder of the musical dynasty, Jan Jiří Benda, was born in 1686 in a village in Bohemia and combined the trades of weaver and musician. He married Dorota Brixi, a member of the Skalsko branch of a distinguished family of Czech musicians, and five of their six children became musicians, working in Germany. There the eldest son of the family, František, composer of some eighty violin sonatas and fifteen concertos, entered the service of the Prussian Crown Prince, continuing as Konzertmeister after the latter's accession to the throne as Frederick the Great.
Josef Suk was a pupil of the great Czech composer Dvorák. He married Dvorák's daughter Otilie (who, by the way, was also talented as a composer). Suk began this symphony after the death of his beloved mentor and father-in-law, Dvorák. Otilie died toward the end of its composition, which prompted Suk to recompose it and invest it with even deeper feeling. At that time he added the subtitle, which is the name of the legendary "Angel of Death" who attends the souls of the departed and offers them hope. The hour-long, five-movement work is a passionate outpouring of feeling. The first contrasts two themes representing, on the one hand, destiny and death and, on the other, happiness in life. The second, an Andante, is a funeral march. The third is a scherzo contrasting the dance of death and reminiscences of life. The fourth movement, a radiantly tragic Adagio, is said to be a portrait of Otilie. The fifth movement begins in a stern mood, but gradually offers hope, closing in peace and bliss. It is a deeply affecting work in a style fairly similar to that of Richard Strauss' tone poems.
Alkan was counted in Busoni's pantheon of five romantics alongside Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. Brahms and Schumann are the references in the euphoric Grand Duo Concertant - nothing short of a 20 or so minute Sonata in three turbulent movements. This is a work of diving romance and if Alkan had stopped in the style of the first movement then we would have been able to 'place' Alkan. Instead we get a second movement that clamours in bass heavy capering for all the world like a picture of a Black Sabbath. As if to make ‘amends’ the finale is back to the helter-skelter tumble of vivacity we find in the first movement. This euphoria carries over into the Cello Sonata which is in four classically well-tailored movements. Alkan's originality or eccentricity (take your pick) returns for the Adagio which is part sentimental and part affecting. This perhaps offers a parallel with Joseph Holbrooke's chamber works in which sublime ideas and treatment suddenly find themselves up against kitsch music hall ditties. A wild saltarello with grand manner Hungarian gestures from the piano round out the picture.