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
‘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.
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