WORKS: Asrael Symphony
PERFORMER: Prague RSO/Vladimir Valek
CATALOGUE NO: PR 250 018 DDD
After years of neglect, the music of Josef Suk is beginning to come into its own. Recently, a string of recordings of the Asrael Symphony shows a growing awareness that the work is one of the masterpieces of the early 20th century, demanding but profoundly compelling. Inspired by Suk’s sorrow at the death, first of Dvorak in 1904, followed a year later by that of his own wife, Dvorak’s daughter Otilie, the Asrael Symphony is
testament to a talent refined into genius by suffering. The demands of this extraordinary work on performers are considerable. Unfortunately, Vladimir Valek and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra do not offer a truly satisfying treatment of the symphony, nor do they, apart from the odd passage, measure up to the competition offered by Belohlavek, Pesek and Neumann. The strings of the PRSO are not unanimous enough in their taxing high lines, and ensemble from the brass is often below par. There are passages where Valek welds his performers together to fine effect, but all too often we are offered gestures rather than a consistent vision. This is an Asraelvfhich runs well enough, but does not stir; nor does an intoxicating performance of the Scherzo fantastique make this CD a convincing recommendation.
Belohlavek’s recording of Suk’s Fairy Tale and Serenade for Strings does, by comparison, offer something new. The Fairy Tale, based on music for Zeyer’s play Raduz a Mahulena and replete with seductive lyrical riches, receives a near-ideal performance. Belohlavek’s way with the Serenade makes for a big-boned rendition which pays off: there may be a loss of lightness in the second movement, but it is genuinely affecting. Jan Smaczny