I was really looking forward to hearing this CD, as Jiri Belohlavek has given us outstanding recordings of both Asrael and Ripening. Unfortunately, "A Summer's Tale" is a clean miss, albeit with *tremendous* sonics. While I'm giving this three stars overall, one star is the result of such stellar sound, leaving two for the performance.
The problem with this performance is that it seems lost in the moment, mired in a lot of details, and somehow the big picture eludes it. Whereas a listener can hear the trajectory and big picture in Libor Pesek's overwhelming and emotionally stirring performance of this work Josef Suk: A Summer's Tale, Op.29 and Suk: Symphonie Asrael; A Summers Tale (the same recording, packaged individually or coupled with Asrael), Belohlavek seems trapped in two dimensions without any roadmap for where it's all going. It's not an emotionally engaging performance at all--unlike Pesek's, which is moving beyond words. There's no magic here, and it lacks the amazing subtlety in playing that Pesek gets from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (who at times sound like the Vienna Philharmonic--hard to believe, but true). It's surprising that Belohlavek could be this far off.
"A Summer's Tale" is an absolutely astonishing symphony that few know of, and even fewer seem to appreciate for what it is. I see this referred to in most quarters as a suite, and I completely disagree with that designation. While Suk doesn't call it a symphony, it's entirely symphonic in ambition and content. He takes a central theme and weaves it throughout the work. It's my favorite of all of Suk's works. "A Summer's Tale" was composed against the backdrop of the loss of Suk's father-in-law (Dvorak) and Suk's young wife within a very short period of time. While "Asrael" portrays the shock of suffering such grief and loss, "A Summer's Tale" is more about the consequences of that loss, the enduring pain, the numbness inside while still having to keep moving forward, and reluctant acceptance leading to a sense of repose. The ending to "A Summer's Tale" (in Pesek's recording, at least) is magical, ethereal, and deeply moving, all at the same time. It's one of the greatest endings to any orchestral work ever written. Sadly, you won't have that experience listening to Belohlavek's recording, because like much of this symphony, the ending eludes him. But if you search out Pesek's definitive performance of this masterpiece, you'll hear both an astonishing performance and a magical ending. "A Summer's Tale" is truly an unheralded masterpiece, and while Belohlavek's recording won't convey that, Pesek nails it. It's one of my favorite pieces of music of all time--and that's saying a lot.
UPDATE 9/2013: Gramophone magazine just awarded this performance as "Orchestra Performance of the Year" for 2013. Well, they're entitled to their own opinion, but I don't agree with it even a little bit. About six months ago I took another re-listen to this performance to decide if I should keep it or sell it. I decided to sell it.