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.
This CD gives you a little slice of the restoration and development of quintessential French chamber music that gained momentum in the late 19th century and peaked around 1900 - the Golden Era of French art, music and culture. In opposition to the latest fads from Germany (Wagner's giantatism) and overzelous Parisian operas, the luminous pioneers of this vital movement in Paris were Frank, Faure, Saint Saens, Ravel, Massenet, Chausson and later the more modern "impressionist", Claude Debussy.
For CPO the Minguet Quartet has now recorded Suk's complete oeuvre for string quartet with Matthias Kirschnereit joining them for the early piano quintet. From this early quintet, a cosmos of the most wonderful chamber music spreads out before us, now finally documented by a young generation of artists.
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.
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.
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.
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.