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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Epilogue for soprano, baritone, bass, chorus and orchestra (1929) [40.41]
Fairy Tale (Pohadka) (1898) [29.21]
Luba Orgonasova (sop)
Ivan Kusnjer (bar)
Peter Mikulas (bass)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Chorus/Ian Tracey
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Libor Pešek
rec. 6-8 June 1997, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243 5 45245 2 3 [70.07]


Josef Suk is a composer of Mahlerian emotional reach, acquainted with tragedy, familiar with tears, knowing joy from the vantage point of grief. His earlier works (Serenade for Strings) are lighter and Grieg-like. Bereavement after bereavement injected a new element which is at its most blazingly acrid in the Asrael Symphony. Asrael (the angel of death) is the first of the triptych of works that occupied him, on and off, from 1905 until circa 1930. The other two works are Ripening (Zrání) (1912-17) and Epilogue (1920-29).

Ripening has parts for chorus but the chorus and vocal soloists have a much more prominent role in Epilogue. Epilogue functions as a summing up, retrospect and valedictory. It is turbulent and its scorches and scars are healed and held in check by Suk's language which is a form of transmuted Dvorak. He is not a gaudy colourist or an impressionist magician like Janáček nor does he have any interest in jazz or buoyant rhythmic activity - nothing of Martinů in him.

The solo violin plays an important part in the work as encourager and consoler - not passionate lover - nothing of Sheherazade in this. The movements are 1. Footsteps; 2. Mothers' Song; 3. From Eternity to Eternity; 4. Mysterious Amazement and Agitation; 5. Pilgrim - Bringer of Consolation. These are so tracked in the Supraphon but the Virgin Classics disc has eight tracks work subdividing the first movement into four segments. The pounding drums of tr.7 and elsewhere are suggestive of Elgar in the second symphony.

This philosophical work is passionate, highly subjective and instinctive in its sense of direction. The bass sings a line in the first movement - the chorus about the same in the second. Choir and the trio of singers all sing in the finale. The finale has resplendent brass. This is Delius without the languor with music that is intensely poetic and swooning into exhaustion. The message is not for malcontents - a blessing in fulfilment. Ultimately this represents a consoling harvest amid the cornfields and mountains of Bohemia.

The competition for Epilogue is not numerous. It is from Supraphon who made the first recording with Vaclav Neuman. In fact Ivan Kusnjer is also the baritone in that recording made in the Dvořák Hall, at Prague's Rudolfinum on 25-29 November 1986. Supraphon 11 0116-2 has only the Epilogue - no coupling; so at 40 minutes it may seem short value. At least the Virgin Classics has another substantial work. I have to favour the Pesek disc. Epilogue is timed at 40.31 in Neumann's hands and 40.41 with Pesek. Neuman's wind players are marginally better portrayed in the sound picture and the wind solos often have greater expressive depth but these are matters of fine gradation anyway. Mikulas sports far too much vibrato and Ján Galla makes a far better job. The other members of the singing team are on a par.

Malcolm Stewart, the leader of the RLPO, plays a significant part in Epilogue especially in the first several movements. His sweet toned, slickly moving violin also has much to do in the early Fairy Tale also known as Radúz and Mahulena. Pešek reminds us that the great theme of this piece in tr.9 at 4.04 is one of those gifts to the world. It is of the calibre of Det Enda from Nystroem's Sinfonie del Mare, the great hymn to the sun at the end of de Falla's El Amor Brujo, the pianississimo lachrymal hymn in Pettersson's Seventh Symphony, the exuberantly ecstatic theme in the first movement of Louis Glass's Fifth Symphony and so on. If the first movement is lushly and perfectly balanced romantic, the second is jaunty with a touch of Strauss - Prague as an analogue of Vienna. The third movement is a lament with the first presentiments of Asrael (at 1.10) in the clarinet calls. The final panel starts rather like Suk's own brilliant Fantastic Scherzo but this dynamism and the Nutcracker macabre evaporates with the cozening of Malcolm Stewart's solo violin which ushers in the return of the tender love theme of the first movement.

The excellent notes and translation of the sung texts are by John Tyrrell, an established name in this field.

Epilogue is one of the masterworks of the Czech landscape, as powerful a philosophical channel as Martinu's Epic of Gilgamesh or Atterburg's Sinfonia Visonaria (just issued by CPO) though with m,ore telling melodic material than the Atterburg. There is a Delian quality about this music which relates it to works such as Requiem, Song of the High Hills and A Mass of Life.


Rob Barnett



Asrael VC 7 59638 2
Ripening; Praga VC 7 59318 2
A Summer's Tale VC 54057 2

Slovak Suite; Eternal Longing; In the Tatras VC 5 45251 2


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