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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op.27 'Asrael' (1905-06)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jakub Hruša
rec. live, 18-20 October 2018, Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900188 [62:43]

This is Jakub Hruša’s second record of the Asrael Symphony, his earlier having been recorded with the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra for Exton in 2015. Since then he has chalked up a number of further performances, in places as geographically widely-spaced as Melbourne and Cleveland, and whilst his conception has not changed significantly in the three years that separate the Tokyo recording and this latest one with the Bavarian Symphony, it’s very noticeable that his Bavarian tempi are in every movement more relaxed than those he took in Japan.

Partly this is an interpretative readjustment possibly as a result of his German orchestra’s greater familiarity with the repertoire. It was decades ago, of course, but this after all is the same orchestra that Rafael Kubelík directed in this work with such exceptional results. In fact, in some ways, not least the opening slow movement of part one and in the finale of the symphony, I am most reminded of Kubelík’s lineage, though Hrůša himself is a conducting student of the School of Bělohlávek, whose own recordings are also identifiably independent in conception.

Hruša has a fruitful recording contract with his Bamberg orchestra but the Bavarians provide some real trenchancy in the brass, especially the low brass, and in the layered strings. The high winds are also excellently balanced here, and the bass drum resounds like the Last Judgement in the Andante sostenuto, a movement made all the more visceral by virtue of the conductor’s steady tempo. The succeeding Andante is also steady; Talich is slower in the famous first recording of the work but most others take the music a notch faster. But the Mahlerian-Moravian calls are aptly in place, and in the final panel of the first part, the conductor negotiates a potentially tricky change from the vivace to the andante sostenuto panel with great perception. The gauzy nostalgia here is touching and emotively affecting.

The refined solo voices in the Adagio opening of the second part – in particular the solo violin - and the control of dynamics ensure that tension never saps and the eloquent balance between the winds and strings in the finale – again at that trademark measured but also moving tempo – brings the work to a vivid end. Mackerras and Svetlanov in their own very different ways concur with Hrůša’s tempo choices in this final part of the symphony.

Which leads one to the wholly changed landscape for purchasers of this symphony. For many years choice was as good as non-existent but since the 1990s the heat has been on. In addition to those mentioned above Neumann, Netopil (whom I don’t recommend), Petrenko, Botstein, Ashkenazy and others have appeared, not to omit historical retrievals directed by Ančerl (on SWR) and Waldhans on Orchestral Concert. Amongst all these Hruša’s reading scores highly because of its consistent pacing, its orchestral finesse and excellent recording.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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