Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Josef SUK Asrael Symphony (1880) [61.42]
Antonin DVORAK Stabat Mater (1877) [85.18]
Drahomira Tikalova (sop)
Marta Krasova (con)
Beno Blachut (ten)
Karel Kalas (bass)
Czech Philharmonic Chorus
Czech PO/Vaclav Talich
rec Rudolfinum, Prague mono Dvorak rec 8-14 Jan 1952 Suk rec 22-29 May 1952
SUPRAPHON Historical 11 1902-2 902 CD1 [72.06] CD2 [75.04]
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Supraphon must be among the most constant of labels in sustaining recordings in their catalogue. In this respect they can be compared with Hyperion and Chandos.

Dvorák in Three Choirs mode can be difficult to take these days. About his writing can hang a Victorian fustiness. However Stabat Mater fends off this weakness most of the time. The reason for this is, no doubt, the tragedy that prompted its writing: the death of his daughter Josefa in 1875. The Symphonies rarely if ever track into tragic pastures. This work is as close as Dvorak gets to tragedy although Othello is not far distant. The singers are a very strong team with muscular tone production and dignified expression. Only Krasova lapses from this high standard in the Inflammatus. Talich marches with the prevailing winds which can be Verdian (as in Eja Mater), Beethovenian (Fac me vere) and Schubertian (Fac ut portem). His hand is confident and attentive.

To Suk's Asrael. This work is certainly relevant and strikes home with fresh strength across the ages. It is scorched with two deaths: that of Dvorák (his father-in-law) and Dvorák's daughter, Otilie, Suk's wife, who died 14 months after Dvorák. The amplitude of Suk's language is broad and deep. The reach of the music is epic; the language steeped in a late romanticism shared with Korngold and Strauss but staunched by a dignified restraint. That restraint makes the tragedy of expression even more poignant. Even in the alert woodwind as in 7.55 the perkiness is melded with rasping brass and affirmative horsepower from Talich. Talich brings out surprising parallels e.g. the great funereal tread of the andante foreshadows Shostakovich (02.03). The leering capering spirits of the Vivace are a charnel equivalent of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. The great Adagio avoids sollipsistic self-pity but embraces emotion head on along the way taking in pre-echoes of Bax, Holst and Griffes, The brass bray in the Adagio e maestoso reflecting most powerfully the tragedy that rises like a fog from this music. Love, anger and bereavement meet, boil, strike, flense and probe through the pages of this great symphony which is confidently of the twentieth century.

This is a great performance Mahlerian in its emotive updraft. Talich feeds the glowing brands with pure oxygen. Of his successors only Kubelik (Panton) and Behlolavek (Chandos) have stood unflinchingly at the same furnace door or discovered comfort among the louring clouds of an epilogue worthy of those in Bax's Third and Sixth Symphonies.

The set has classic status compromised because, by the side of the Suk, the Dvorak work stands in the shallows. To this extent the only weakness is unequal partnership. Talich's Asrael would stand happily alone. There are few works that can match its darkly inclined ardour and few interpretations that can even approach Talich.

Rob Barnett

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