Symphony No. 2 in C minor ‘Asrael’
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jakub Hrůša
BR Klassik 900188 62:43 mins
Suk’s monumental Asrael Symphony no longer needs special pleading with a gathering of fine recordings and reasonably frequent live performances. The tragic background to the symphony is well known: the initial stimulus was the death of Suk’s teacher and father-in-law Dvořák in 1904. This sincere, respectful monument turned into an even more profound personal outpouring of grief when a year later Suk’s wife Otylka died at the age of 27. The result is one of the greatest Czech orchestral works of the 20th century, vast in scope and rich in sentiment.
Jakub Hrůša is seen in many ways as a successor to Bělohlávek, but while he shares his teacher’s care for the detail of the score and a deep understanding of the Czech repertoire he is very much his own man. Hrůša’s reading of the first movement is relatively fast paced but in no way garbled, capturing the tone of anguished despair unerringly. His reading of the elusive Andante with its references to the main motif of Dvořák’s Requiem Mass is both passionate and spectral, and the scherzo third movement has great cumulative power. Suk’s portrait of Otylka in the fourth movement is tender without being cloying. After the pulverising opening of the finale, Hrůša outlines Suk’s tragic journey towards its final catharsis with penetrating insight.
The excellent recorded sound is a vital component of this performance, allowing every aspect of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra’s magnificent orchestral playing to emerge with clarity. Overall, this near-definitive performance is one to treasure.