> SUK six piano pieces Lauriala [GL]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Piano Music
Six Piano Pieces:

Song of Love, Humoreske, Recollections, Idylls,
Dumka, Capriccietto

De Maman (O matince)
Quand maman était encore une petite fille, Jadis au printemps, Comme maman chantait, la nuit, à son enfant malade; Du coeur de maman, Souvenirs


Legend, Capriccio, Romanze, Bagatelle, Spring Idyll

Risto Lauriala (piano)
recorded in the Small Auditorium, Tampere Hall, Tampere, Finland; 18-19 December 1996
NAXOS 8.553762 [72:34]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Of Suk’s Six Piano Pieces Op. 7, ‘Song of Love’ and ‘Recollections’ are gentle expressions of love in all their tenderness. Dreamy and atmospheric then passionate, wistful and romantic, they set the scene for the rest of the album.

‘Humoreske’ is a lively dance tune in waltz time, delightfully played by the young Finnish pianist Risto Lauriala. ‘Idylls’, in waltz time, is very relaxed and slow-paced and dreamily nostalgic. The D minor ‘Dumka’ is a lament, sensitively played and again laid back, melancholy even in the opening section, followed by a lively contrasting dance section before its original mood returns.

This set of piano pieces ends with a ‘Capriccietto’ marked and played Allegretto Scherzando in triple time and in a dramatic manner. Risto Lauriala’s interpretation of this set of piano pieces is colourful and descriptive.

About Mother is a group of supposedly simple pieces for piano composed for Suk’s son and is meant to recollect the various stages of his son’s mother’s life. It begins with ‘When Mother Was a Little Girl’ and, as one can imagine, it sounds very nostalgic. The second, ‘Once in Spring’, is sad and mournful, it’s C minor key suggesting a time of painful memories.

The throbbing minimalist rhythm of ‘How Mother Sang at Night to her Sick Child’ describes the anxiety and loving tenderness in a heartfelt way. ‘From Mother’s Heart’ is in the form of constant rhythmic octave repetitions. It conjures up a feeling of fear and urgency but this quickly followed by a brighter sense of hope and well-being. About Mother ends with an extremely tender and loving piece filled with memories of his dead wife, the mother his son would never know in person. These musical images would surely be treasured by his son throughout his life - a delightful and touching biography.

Moods Opus 10 written when Suk was aged 21 is the last set on this album. The opening of ‘Legend’, the first piece, is lyrical with arpeggiated chords suggesting a dumka. A change in the middle section from major to minor key gives a darker, moodier hue. This makes way for a brighter, livelier finale. ‘Capriccio’ has a whimsical dance-like rhythm that contrasts strongly with the tender Romance which follows it.

‘Bagatelle’ is delicately subdued in character with a hint of "misterioso". The last piece, ‘Spring Idyll’, as the title suggests, is wistfully nostalgic like so many pieces on this delightfully colourful album.

Whilst many of these pieces share a certain similarity, each track does, in a strange way, have an identity of its own. A recommended album for admirers of piano music and I would suggest that the music student might benefit by studying Lauriala’s interpretation of Suk’s works, and the manner in which he uses tone, colour and dynamics to enhance these delightful, well structured pieces.

Grace Lace

Jonathan Woolf also listened to this disc

Suk never really shared the commitment to piano composition of his fellow composers Fibich and Novak, who was three years older and a classmate in Dvorak’s composition class. Though he was a professional violinist and internationally known as the second violin of the Bohemian, later Czech Quartet, from 1892-1933 he was a more than proficient pianist and it’s somewhat surprising that he wrote so relatively sparsely for chamber and solo forces. Not only did he not share Fibich and Novak’s engagement with the literature he was also, in general, less imaginative harmonically and less convincing structurally.

The three sets recorded here date from his 17th year to his 33rd and illustrate a compositional graph from an enviable and lucid fluency and easy lyricism to a more intimate and acute awareness of the potential of a semi-confessional aesthetic, if nowhere approaching the rawness and obsessive introspection of Fibich. The best known piece here is Pisen lasky or the Song of Love, composed when Suk was barely nineteen and the first of the six pieces that make up Op 7 – most are conventional, youthfully pulsing with life, if not yet with any serious levels of depth. The full spaced chords lend a mid-Brahmsian air to Suk’s writing, the melodic line frequently veering toward the stereotypical – the whole cycle in fact embodying characteristics of the fin de siecle salon style. Occasionally, as in the third of the set, Vzpominky, a vague reminiscence of Liszt will emerge from the texture.

The Op 10 cycle, Nalady (or Moods) similarly embodies these same characteristics, from the big rolled chords of Legend, the first, through the affecting Romanza but the most consistently attractive music is contained in the Op 28 set O matince (About Mother) composed in 1907. The first of the set contains a reminiscence of Pisen lasky at its close, a self-quotation which points not, as one might think, to a grandiose over-confidence but rather to a greater awareness of the functions of nuance and intimacy as he moves away from the pervasive chromaticism of his youth and toward the eventual assurance of his later Op 30 cycle Zivotem a snem. O matince is still in a transitional stage but its increased modality demonstrates Suk’s shift from the subjective Romantic style of his earlier pieces and is all the better for it. Kdysi z jara is even somewhat reminiscent of Debussy’s Arabesques; the cycle as a whole if not a remarkable masterpiece is at least a conspicuous success in increased expression and feeling.

Lauriala plays well; he’s recorded in a pleasing acoustic, the Small Auditorium of Tampere Hall and evinces a convincing range of tone colours and is necessarily fluent in Suk’s passagework demands of the earlier cycles – listen as well to his good, covered tone in Idylky of the Op 7 set. Comparison with the greatest Czech pianist to have recorded, Jan Herman, inevitably shows that Lauriala simply can’t match the outstanding range of colouristic devices, gradations of tone, architectural surety and sheer genius of touch of Herman’s mid-1930s recordings – but then few ever could or can. Suk’s piano music has been neglected of late and this is an excellent opportunity to get to know it better.
Jonathan Woolf


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