Like many classical music lovers, I was more familiar with Joseph Suk's biography than I was with his music. His happy years as a husband with a famous father-in-law (Antonin Dvorak) and the loss he felt when his wife died is a somewhat well known tale, as is the darkness of his music after he was widowed. Yet with the exception of his march "Toward a New Life" and perhaps his "Serenade for Strings," which is often paired on recordings with his father in law's work of the same title, I did not know any of his music. Then our local classical station, WCRB began playing "Fantastic Scherzo" with some regularity. I mistakenly thought it was a piece by Dvorak until I heard the announcer state the work's title. I decided this work is a must have, and so I purchased the recording.
My primary interest in the recording is "Fantastic Scherzo." Sir Charles Mackerras brings out the entire flavor this sumptuous and dreamy piece has to offer. It surprises me that the work is not a more popular concert piece and is not available on more recordings, yet I cannot imagine that the work would be significantly better handled by any other conductor.
Since I purchased the disc primarily for "Fantastic Scherzo," I was not all that interested in "A Summer Tale," at least at first. One day while driving, I decided to give it a listening to, and was amazed at its beauty and complexity. While "Fantastic Scherzo" is a lighter work, reminiscent of his famous father-in-law, "A Summer Tale" reflects other early twentieth century musical influences, particularly Mahler. Listeners will see a variety in the styles of the various movements. As one can except from a conductor such as Mackerras, he explores the work's nuances and subtleties well and is in complete control of the orchestra.
Recordings such as this show that Suk deserves more attention than he often receives. Since most record labels are somewhat skittish (a mild understatement) about releasing new recordings, we may not find all that many new recordings of Suk's work in the near future, but at least we have this recording to give us a glimpse of what we are missing.