This unique live recording made at the 1992 Prague Spring International
Music Festival, captures the finely honed artistry of two legendary
musical personalities, Suk and Firkušný. Years after emigrating
to the USA Firkušný returned to the stage at the Prague Spring Music
Festival as Suk’s pianist. Their brilliant recital of sonatas, the
high point of the Festival, is a true artistic delight.
Prague born violinist Josef Suk (b. 1929) has the highest possible
musical pedigree being a grandson of the famous Czech composer
and violinist Josef Suk and great grandson of Dvořák. Suk
from an early age combined his solo career with chamber music
playing with the Prague Quartet, the Suk Trio which he founded
in 1951 and the Smetana Quartet. The recipient of many prestigious
awards, Suk became conductor and artistic director of the Suk
Chamber Orchestra in 1981.
born pianist Rudolf Firkušný (1912-1994) also has an impressive
pedigree having studied with composer Leos Janáček from
a young age and piano study with Vilem Kurz and composition
with Josef Suk. Firkušný left Czechoslovakia
after the Nazi occupation in 1939 and settled in New York, USA in 1940.
He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1946 to perform at the first Prague Spring International
Music Festival. With the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia
in 1948, Firkušný gave up plans to return to his homeland and
became an American citizen returning only occasionally to see
family and friends. After the fall of the communist regime Firkušný
returned to Czechoslovakia
to perform for the first time after more than forty years in
Sonatina for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 100 (B.
the exception of his last creative period Dvořák devoted
practically his entire life to composing chamber music, which
is so infused with fresh, folk music elements, enchanted with
lyricism, spontaneous rhythms, inventive harmonies and robust
timbres. Dvořák wrote his Sonatina for Violin and
Piano in G major in New York in the
autumn of 1893 and dedicated it to his children; the fifteen year
old pianist Otilie and ten year old violinist Antonín Jr. The
four movement score, that I have seen named as ‘Indian
Lament’, is less technically demanding than usual, although,
the score is not short of invention and reveals his mature creative
and Firkušný display a special affinity for the Sonatina
offering compelling playing. The second movement Larghetto
is played with an impressive nostalgic yearning and I especially
enjoyed the buoyant interpretation of the Scherzo which
is bursting with warmth and ardour. The duo make sparks fly
in the closing movement Allegro and from the loudness
of the applause the audience just loved it, as did I.
Despite the melodic
attraction of the Sonatina there are surprisingly few accounts
available in the catalogues. I have never been completely satisfied
with my version from Anthony Marwood and Susan Tomes on Hyperion
CDA66934. The ‘Slavic character’ of the recording,
made in Bristol in 1997, is not convincing enough for my ears.
The account of the G major Sonatina from Václav Remeš and Sachiko Kayahara on Praga PRD250153
has many admirers and is a version that I intend to hear. The
Praga recording from Remeš and Kayahara also contains an account
of the Janáček Violin Sonata.
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1913-21)
Violin Sonata took an unusually long time to compose,
between 1913 and 1921 and during that time he revised the work
four times. Janáček commenced the score at the beginning
of the Great War, “when we were waiting for the Russians
in Moravia”. This note casts light on the noticeable Russian colouration
of some of the melodic turns in the score. Janáček’s succeeding
revisions were composed in the atmosphere of the events of war,
as well as in the throes of a later romance.
four movement score unfolds as a passionate swathe of sound
and in these expert hands the performance is alive and compelling.
I love the way that Suk and Firkušný accentuate the passionate
content of the second movement Ballada - Con moto and
the very brief but good humoured Slavic Scherzo movement
is given a suitably edgy and boisterous performance. I am highly
satisfied with this excellent performance and the urgency to
hear the Praga account from Remeš and Kayahara (mentioned above)
has certainly lessened. Perhaps the best known account of the
Janáček Violin Sonata is from Frank
Peter Zimmermann and Alexander Lonquich, from 1990, on EMI CDC7543052.
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Brahms composed a
great deal of his Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor during
a vacation at Hofstetten, near Lake Thun, in the summer of 1886.
Brahms set the work aside for two years and completed the four
movement score only when he returned to Lake Thun in 1888. Brahms
usually reserved the key of D minor for his most deeply
felt and passionate moods and the Violin Sonata No. 3 is
a muscular, tough, and at times a nervous, intense and darkly
and Firkušný perform the score with urgency and
alertness in a traditional yet uninflated style. In spite of thoroughly
enjoying the performance I have certain reservations about this
interpretation especially as the competition in this much recorded
score is extremely fierce. The opening Allegro lacks the
emotional concentration of Nils-Erik Sparf and Elisabeth Westenholz
on BIS-CD-212 and of Shlomo Mintz and Itamar Golan on Avie AV2057. In the Adagio Suk
and Firkušný cannot equal the nobility and deep romanticism provided
by Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim on Deutsche Grammophon
289 453 121-2. However, the buoyant playing is a match for any
duo in the short and sharply contrasted Scherzo movement.
In the stormy Presto agitato conclusion my favourite account
is the vibrant and spontaneous interpretation by Josef Suk on
his earlier 1967 London studio recording with partner Julius Katchen,
on Decca 421 092-2. Realising consistently refined musicianship
throughout the D minor Violin Sonata Suk and Katchen would
be my all-round first choice account.
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 10 in G major, Op. 96
G minor Violin Sonata is Beethoven’s tenth and last work
in the genre. Beethoven composed the score in 1812 inspired
by the heartfelt expressivity of the outstanding French virtuoso
Pierre Rode. The score is considered one of Beethoven’s warmest
and most intimate creations in the violin sonata form and it
certainly feels that way here. I especially admired the ability
of Suk and Firkušný to provide the necessary lightness of touch
and grace in the opening Allegro moderato. In the slow
movement they impressively create an atmosphere of restrained
beauty. At the conclusion of the excitingly played Poco allegretto
the audience showed their appreciation with torrents of applause;
how I wish I had been in Dvořák Hall with them.
the hands of Suk and Firkušný the sonata provides considerable
enjoyment and is a version that I will undoubtedly return to.
From my collection I am enthusiastic over the account of the
G major Sonata from the pairing of Pinchas Zukerman and
Daniel Barenboim. Recorded in the early 1970’s this is high
quality music making from two friends that is joyously infectious.
The recording forms part of a 9 disc box set of the complete
Piano Trios, Violin Sonatas and Cello Sonatas,
that includes cellist Jacqueline du Pré, on EMI 5 74447 2. Another
version that I greatly admire for its spontaneity and excitement
is from Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich on a 3 disc set of
the complete Violin Sonatas from Deutsche Grammophon
live recording is crisp and clearly recorded by the Supraphon
engineers although the balance slightly favours the violin.
The liner notes are interesting and helpful.
have many live recordings in my collection but few that can
match the electric atmosphere provided here. The recording is
a testament to the art of two twentieth century stalwarts of