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.
In 1984 Steven Isserlis made excellent recordings for Hyperion of the Brahms sonatas with Peter Evans; this time he's added some substantial extra items – the two Suk pieces, wonderfully played, are particularly welcome. The new recording is fuller in sound and more realistic; Stephen Hough's commanding playing of Brahms's 'big' piano parts could, one feels, overpower the cello but, thanks to his sensitivity, this never happens.
One of the benefits wrought by the CD era was the recording of composers and repertoire that the big international labels would never even consider in the LP era. Many small Cd labels did very well with early music, composers of national or regional repertoire and minor composers of all eras some of whom were major composers in their day. This is the case with the three composers on this disc, all of whom had reputations throughout Europe.
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.
Milena Wilke was born in Freiburg in Breisgau in 1996. She won first place in the Ton und Erklärung competition (Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft) 2016 in Berlin and won several other prizes in competitions on both national and international level. In 2017, she was awarded a scholarship by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes und des Richard-Wagner-Verbands Konstanz and was additionally welcomed in the organization Yehudi Menuhin, Live Music Now. For this new release, together with Tatiana Chernichka she has recorded several works for violin and piano and she also has written two pieces herself.
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 Sibelius violin concerto is a wonderful piece. And because great violin concertos don't grow on trees the work has been recorded by all of the top violinists. Dong-Suk Kang may not be as famous as Joshua Bell, but he handles this work with great skill. Scandanavian music broods a little and Kang has just the right hint of melancholgy. His technique to my ears is excellent and Naxos engineers have created a clean sound. The Slovakian orchestra holds its end up nicely.
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.
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.