> SUK Nalady etc [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Nalady op 10
Piano pieces op 12
Fantasy-Polonaise op 5
Humoresque in C Major
Village Serenade
Pavel Stepan, piano
SUPRAPHON SU 0032-2 111 [65’33]


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Suk was the second violinist in the Bohemian Quartet and spent much of his free time on tour sketching works he would later elaborate or orchestrate. Most of the works in Pavel Stepan’s reissued disc date from early in Suk’s composing life and are still deeply imbued with those late Romantic influences he was later more thoroughly to absorb. There is little of the great and absorbing orchestrator in these winsome little miniatures and their very real charm, though undeniable, doesn’t run too deep.

Stepan battles against a slightly hard acoustic – Supraphon’s recording engineers occasionally struggled in the Domovina studios in the early to mid 1970s – but this has the almost paradoxical effect of strengthening the profile of Suk’s deliciously rich though melodically salon-inspired genre pieces. Nalady or Moods is described in the booklet notes as a "conceptually homogenous pentalogy" – in other words it’s a suite of five charming movements. The first, Legend, has nostalgically rolled chords and Suk’s already characteristic modulations in place, with a central section slower, more romantic and wistful. Stepan’s rubato in Capriccio is entirely apt and purposefully effective; his tough playing is as winning as his tender. Perhaps rather surprisingly Suk, whose use of folk stimuli was never as indulgent as say, Novak’s, emerges as somewhat the superior of the two here. I find Novak’s use of the Barcarolle decidedly inferior to Suk’s Bagatelle. The Romance, the third of the cycle, is charming with non-cloying sentiment, harmonic progressions never dreary, whilst the Bagatelle makes rather more of the piece than superficial playfulness; the accelerando is especially well played by Stepan.

Stepan’s distinct affinities with Suk are reinforced in op 12, the Piano pieces. The pianist is careful but affectionate in bringing out the dance, Louceni Louceni, that runs through it. It was Dvorak’s who acutely noted that the third of the set, an Adagio ma non troppo, would make a good operatic duet. It does have a very vocal quality with its dark, rather glowering chords and felicitous modulations – and its rise to a rushing central section that is reminiscent of Schumann. In the composer’s score he wrote "Chase after a butterfly" at the head of No 6 – though it’s otherwise noted as an allegro vivace. Motoric, with fluttering scurries and treble trills it ends in a certain wistful, rather maudlin way – the butterfly caught? The cycle concludes as it had begun – with a brooding little Andante that gives way to a middle section of vivid dance rhythms and pulsing with life – a little anticipatory of Rachmaninov in some ways and vibrantly songful.

A few other pieces complete the disc – including a swaggering, tuneful and rather lusty-Lisztian Fantasie Polonaise and an amusingly sly Humoresque. There’s nothing here to match the depth of Suk’s later op 28 cycle O Matince (About Mother) but in their harmonically rich way, with their easy melodies and fluent writing, albeit of the salon school, Suk’s early pieces, especially when so knowingly and freshly interpreted by Stepan, still make an infectious impression.

Jonathan Woolf


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