This double disc set had its origins in two separate Chandos discs: CHAN9042
and CHAN9063. It makes every sense to couple the two although I rather wish
that Chandos had gone the extra mile and added Belohlavek's version of Suk's
Fantastic Scherzo currently in harness with the Janacek
Sinfonietta and the Martinu 6 on Chandos CHAN 8897.
After years of representation by a single recording of
Asrael, albeit one of such ineffable quality that others must
have thought at least three times three before venturing out. Vaclav Talich
is still a spiritual reference against which other recordings fall short.
However it is in mono and the world does not stand still. Unlike Neumann's
Martinu, his Supraphon recording of Asrael misses the unsettling
desolation of Talich. Pesek's Virgin Classics Asrael (now on bargain
price in the HMV Concert Classics series - only available in-store at HMV
- you should be able to pick it up for £5.00 in the UK if you are lucky)
is a real force to be reckoned with. Belohlavek's orchestra (the successor
to Talich's) is flattered by Chandos's de luxe attention and their recording
reminded me somewhat of the glories of Chandos's way with the Chicago Symphony
in Neeme Järvi's Franz Schmidt Symphony No. 2. There are no easy winners
here. Though derided for some orchestral abrasions I still hanker after the
Russian State SO/Evgeni Svetlanov on a deleted Russian Disc RDCD11011 - reviewers
have spoken of the spectacular work of the Russian brass. You must remember
however that my tastes will be regarded as rather suspect - for example I
love the David Oistrakh recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto on Olympia.
Returning to 'safer' territory and yet still not exactly 'establishment',
I would also recommend the Bavarian Radio SO/Rafael Kubelik from Panton 81
1101-2 - from a very healthy sounding Munich radio tape.
The other two works are attractive though the Serenade is rather a
wan essay to my ears and not the equal of the Dvorák Serenade
with which it is often compared. I have a special affection for Pohadka
- A Fairy Tale which, with the Fantastic Scherzo, was my
entrée to the world of Suk. The Chandos Czech PO's Pohadka is
preferable to Pesek's version on Supraphon. I have not yet heard Pesek in
his 1990s version for Virgin (part of a four disc series with the RLPO).
If the accent of the Serenade is pleasantry rather than anything terribly
probing or challenging this work is by no means inferior to the Elgar Serenade.
It is given an easy charm by recording engineer and performers. Pohadka
- a suite from Suk's incidental music for Julius Zeyer's play of the
same name is much stronger and Belohlavek breathes into it a crisp and
sentimental approach avoiding the caramel of Scylla or the dull steel of
The catalogues are not short of strong versions of Asrael. Talich is an essential
for Suk enthusiasts. More generalised collectors will wish to opt for this
stunning well recroded version or the bargain-midprice Pesek.