Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Asrael Symphony (1906)
A Fairy Tale
(Pohádka) (1900)
Serenade for Strings (1892)
 Czech PO/Jiri Belohlavek
rec: Spanish Hall, Prague Castle, 17-21 June 1991 (Asrael); 22-26 June 1992 (other works) DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 9640(2) [CD1 58.38 CD2 59.50]

Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS
 Amazon recommendations

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 Charybdis.

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.


Rob Barnett

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: