COMPOSERS: Josef Suk; Benjamin Britten
ALBUM TITLE: Suk • Britten
WORKS: Suk: Asrael Symphony; Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
PERFORMER: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Kirí Belohlávek
CATALOGUE NO: SU40952
As he returns to his homeland to take over the reins of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, here’s a timely reminder of the profundity Jiπi B∑lohlávek could achieve during his impressive years as the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor. Asrael, the angel of death, strikes twice in Suk’s epic symphony of lamentation – once to claim the composer’s father-in-law Dvoπák, the second time midway through composition to take away their beloved Otilka, Dvoπák’s daughter and Suk’s wife.B∑lohlávek finds a magisterial balance between a keenly-profiled, never overblown handling of the work’s many turbulences and a chamber-musical sensitivity to the more original, introspective twilight zones. Leader Andrew Haveron and the many sophisticated woodwind solos combine with delicate strings to make the two slow movements – the first using a theme from Dvoπák’s Requiem, the second a portrait of Otilka – and the final, restrained C major catharsis things of diaphanous wonder. Here B∑lohlávek caps Václav Neumann’s earlier recording on Supraphon and matches the luminosity of Rafael Kubelík’s interpretation on Panton (sadly deleted).
This 2008 Prague Spring Festival concert, with its applause rather joltingly included, was bold enough to twin Suk’s symphonic requiem with another, more compact but in some ways even more hard-hitting: Britten’s early orchestral masterpiece composed some 25 years later. The almost cathedral-like warmth of Prague’s Smetana Hall serves Suk’s supernatural radiance better than some of Britten’s tougher sonorities; but another luminous resolution, the final Requiem aeternam launched by a trio of ineffable flutes, is masterfully built to its similarly cathartic climax before it, too, fades into infinity.