> SUK string Quarterts [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
String Quartet No. 1, Opus 11
String Quartet No. 2, Opus 31
Quartet Movement in B flat
Tempo di Menuetto
Meditation on the St Wenceslas Chorale

Suk Quartet
Recorded June 1978 (Quartet Movement), Domovina Studio, March 1979 (Quartet No. 1), January 1984 (Quartet No. 2, Tempo di Menuetto, Meditation), Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
SUPRAPHON 11 1531-2 111 [52.17]

Josef Suk was one of the most gifted composers of his generation, and created several works, such as the Fairy Tale, the War Triptych, the symphonic poem Praha and the Asrael Symphony, which deserve to be in the international repertory. Generally these compositions reflect an inclination towards a serious mode of expression, typical of the style known as 'late romanticism', and it seems which was already apparent during Suk's days as a student at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied composition with Antonín Dvořák (who later became his father-in-law).

In addition to an increasingly significant career as a composer, Suk was the second violin of the famous Bohemian String Quartet for over thirty years. He also taught at the Prague Conservatory, where he numbered Martinů among his pupils. But composition always remained his first love, mainly in orchestral and instrumental genres, and it can be no surprise that he was most at home in chamber music.

This CD, featuring the ensemble that bears the composer's name, gathers together various works for string quartet. The fundamental aspect of the music is how well written it is, how the parts all contribute to the whole. Take the opening of the Quartet No. 1 (TRACK 1: 0.00), for example, the sound is so natural in its balance and projection. And as we might expect of Czech performers, the sensitivity to every nuance is palpable. The recorded sound is consistent across all the performances, even though the recording dates and even the venue do vary. It is the typical Supraphon ambience of an ample acoustic and plenty of atmosphere. It suits the music rather well.

The Quartet No. 2 is the boldest music in this collection, and by some distance. Perhaps that stemmed from the decision to gather the implications of a multi-movement work into one single span of construction. Again the opening is distinctive (TRACK 6: 0.00), a deeply felt meditation, in which the eloquence of the playing brings forth the eloquence of the music. But as the work proceeds, so the contrasts build, and perhaps the music's greatest strength is the sure control of structure. These things raise particular issues for the performers, and I am sure the composer would have been pleased with what his namesake quartet achieves.

The Tempo di Menuetto is an afterthought piece, an arrangement of music from a piano piece, and somehow it sounds like it. Suk conceived the Allegro giocoso Quartet Movement as an optional item, an alternative finale to the Quartet No. 1, rather than as a separate item or the beginnings of another Quartet. As its title would indicate, it is an engaging enough piece, although the slightly shorter original version sounds just as well.

This enterprising programme is completed by a great work: the Meditation on the St Wenceslas Chorale. Perhaps this music is best known in its orchestral version, as part of Suk's War Triptych, but this is the original score and this is how the music sounds best, with that extra degree of intimacy. Composed in 1914, the music is concerned with images of hope amid the sufferings caused by war, and has a traditional Czech chorale as its symbolic and potent image. This performance (TRACK 8: 0.00) has just the right qualities of dedication.

Terry Barfoot


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