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Josef Suk’s piano
Josef SUK (1874-1935)

Jaro/Spring Op.22a (1902)
Letní dojmy/Summer Impressions Op.22b (1902)
Vesnická serenáda/A Village serenade (publ.1922)
Dvé klavírní skladby/Two Pieces for Piano (1891)
Písen lásky/Song of Love Op.7 No.1 (1893)
Tří klavírní skladby/Three Pieces for Piano (publ.1943)
Spanish Capers (1909)
Christmas Eve (1923)
Otilie SUKOVÁ-DVOŘÁKOVÁ (1878-1905)

Pepča Riding a Little Horse
Ing. Josef SUK (1901-1951)

Scherzino (1948)
Reverie (1944)
Minuet (1944)
Andante (1951)
Tomáš Víšek (piano – Suk’s own Bösendorfer No.15421)
Recorded at Křečovice, September 1999
ARCO DIVA UP 0025-2 131 [68.23]

Not only is this an intriguing programme with some premiere recordings but also it’s played on Suk’s own Bösendorfer. There’s even a colour photograph of Tomáš Víšek playing it in Křečovice surrounded as he is by Suk memorabilia. The works include his well known Jaro or Spring but Arco Diva adds the much less played opus 22 stable mate Letní dojmy (Summer Impressions). The Two and Three Piano Pieces have never been recorded before and nor has Spanish Capers. We also have four little morceaux by Dvořák’s daughter and Suk’s short-lived wife, Otilie as well as four attractive pieces by Suk’s son, also Josef. None of these have ever been recorded.

The disc starts with Spring and it’s rewarding to compare and contrast Víšek with, say, Igor Ardašev on Supraphon. The latter is all brightness and ease, making those dynamics really "bite", playing with much more incisive chordal hardness. Víšek’s Bösendorfer is softer, more rounded and it suits his interpretation, which is rather more meditative and less inclined to extremes in the opening movement. I should add though at this point that the Bösendorfer has a very noisy action, which may grate on the unsympathetic pernickety ear. What it also has is middle register warmth and this really tells in the third piece, Anticipation. Víšek is less inclined than Ardašev to stress rhythmic disjunctiveness here and he maintains a more flowing and romanticised approach. In the Andante views one again diverge, fruitfully so for the listener; Víšek is almost daintily ambiguous whilst his colleague finds a much darker and more sinuous text to mine. Different approaches then cemented by the choice of instrument (I don’t know what Ardašev was playing but it wasn’t a Bösendorfer).

Summer Impressions never reaches these heights as compositions but it’s still good to hear Víšek’s way with the delicate torpor of Noon, the rhythmic joie de vivre of the Children’s Games (and its real Czech Dance) as well as the remembrance of his great early "hit" Písen lásky in Evening Mood, complete with its quiet impressionistic gauze. Talking of Písen lásky he plays it most attractively and very expressively; is he fighting the bass a little and is that why he seems too strong here - but that’s a mere quibble.

In truth the disinterred Pieces for Piano (in two sets the first from 1891, when Suk was 17; mind you he wrote Písen lásky when he was 19) are rather salon material, little Bagatelles or capriccios to play on his youthful travels. But Spanish Capers shows another side to him with its offbeat displaced accents and sly humour. Christmas Eve was written for a Slovak textbook as a children’s song but, remaining unpublished, Suk turned it into a piano piece. It’s solemn and affectionate and very attractive. Of Otilie’s three little pieces – the only works of hers that seem to have survived - it’s the Lullaby that stands out, a lyrically charming piece, though the Humoresque is capricious and eventful. Suk’s son, Josef, studied forestry as a young man and was self-taught as musician and painter. Shortly before his own sadly premature death he wrote these attractive and unpretentious pieces. I’d draw attention to the fulsome Scherzino and to the rather unusually wistful little Minuet.

The production is very attractive indeed from the piano used to the repertoire to the reprinting of a postcard letter from Suk himself on the actual CD. I enjoyed it greatly and would judge this disc a useful adjunct for Suk admirers and for devotees quite considerably more.

Jonathan Woolf

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