Classical Editor: Rob
The SUK Symphony had its genesis during the Czech Quartet's English
tour in 1897. The work-in-progress was shelved when the composer was commissioned
to write the music for Julius Zeyer's Raduz and Mahulena. This is
early Suk and is in an unsurprisingly Dvorakian track. As yet it is free
from the darkening that changes charming invention into the gripping equivocality
of Epilogue and Asrael. Dvorak's Ninth would go well with this
work. In the allegro vivace the first gripings of Suk's eldritch side
shudder into the spotlight. The Allegro is smooth and takes us towards
Schubert's Great C major but with the snap and zest of the scherzo
from Dvorak 5 and 6.
OSTRCIL's Calvary Variations are no soft touch - having more
in common with the Sinfonietta of seven years earlier than with his
Symphony of the 1900s. There is a shiver and a howl in these pages that is
quite remarkable for the 1920s and especially for Czech art of that era.
Intriguing to think that while in England the 1920s signalled the rise of
music concerned with frivolity and popular culture, works of this grim jaw-set
were being written in Prague. I am not familiar enough with Ostrcil's music
to know what he sounded like before the Great War. What brought about this
change? The notes tell us that he was a committed Christian so clearly this
work must have had special significance. Was he racked with doubts? At surface
level there is little here of obvious affirmative value, of exaltation or
of spiritual uplift. This work seems to take up where the nightmare episodes
in Suk's Asrael left off. In the Allegro the caco-daemons stoke the
fires and the bass drum thuds provide us with clear reminders of
Asrael. This is no obvious lyrical prayer but a far from facile, far
from predictable dissection of the cry - Eloi, Eloi Sabachtoni'. In
its own early twentieth century way it is an even bleaker and more courageous
work than the despair and tender cradling of Allan Pettersson's Seventh Symphony.
The Ostrcil is a work that impresses through its unwavering consistency and
valour; not, however, the most loveable of pieces. Ostrcil conducted the
premiere on 12 March 1929.
Good notes, decent recording quality and generous playing time. Commended
to the adventurous though the styles of the two works are perhaps unlikely
to appeal to the same person.
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