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Josef SUK (1874-1935)

Symphony Asrael op. 27 [59.44]
Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin/Kirill Petrenko
rec. live, 31 Oct 2002, Komischen Oper Berlin
CPO 777 001-2 [59.44]


Kirill Petrenko's name is unfamiliar but after hearing this I hope we will hear him in other works with his Berlin orchestra.

Asrael is gaining an extended discography. Of the works making up the Suk trilogy Asrael is the most dramatic. Ripening is lyrical; Epilogue philosophical - visionary.

Mercurial urgencies are injected at 4.57 onwards in the first movement and the sway Petrenko injects into the music suggests that he wishes to bring out Tchaikovskian parallels. The macabre ‘Mendelssohnisms’ of the 7.36 section are mixed with Manfred.

Followers of Suk's music will find this rewarding listening as an alternative approach to the more tempered and rounded yet still pungent tradition established by Talich and carried forward with tributary variants by Neumann, Pesek and Behlolavek.

I am not convinced by the speed of the fevered temple-hammering section at 12:30 onwards. This should be taken at a steadier pace with a feeling of colossal oppression. On the other hand the exhaustion of the andante is aptly captured complete with that mesmeric metronomic beat (a steadiness also very assertive in the finale at 11.01 onwards). This no doubt reflects the remorseless passage of time. The chorale-like trumpet at 4.43 sounds uncannily like Shostakovich.

Petrenko's first violins shudder in steely delicacy at the start of the Vivace, reaching back to the long eerie tradition of Czech ‘grand guignol’ - reflected in the late tone poems of Dvořák and, to some degree, in Fibich and Novák.

In the fourth movement Delian idylls mix with Dvořák’s folk sweetness. Listen for the exquisite solo violin at. 3.42. In the finale Petrenko and the engineers bring out the superbly chesty attack of the strings at 2.03. I have heard the ‘squeaky’ flutes done with more eldritch atmospheric virtuosity but there is real attack here.

The coughs of the Berlin audience are especially heard in the second movement. If you want complete silence then opt for the studio versions.

The Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin and conductor have prepared this admirably detailed and caring performance with great attention and feeling. It is a privilege to have on disc the same performance that was heard by that Berlin audience in 2002.

I would recommend this to seasoned Suk enthusiasts and especially to Asrael fans. It is not the most intensely tragic of readings though it does not stint in that respect. However the meticulous attention to mood and detail and the sense of spontaneous fantasy - almost in the Scriabin league in the first movement - is something special. For a mainstream studio recommendation try Belohlavek on Chandos and Pesek on Virgin. If you are near an HMV shop try the bargain price Pesek issue on HMV Classics. Talich is hors de concours (mono and extraordinarily atmospheric). Svetlanov on Russian Disc I have always wanted to hear and should be memorable. Kubelik on Opus is outstanding and if you had to go for one in modern sound that's the one to take.

I liked this CPO version very much and I hope that dedicated Suk enthusiasts will try it.

Rob Barnett

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