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Suk: Asrael Symphony / Fairy Tale / Serenade for Strings
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This pair of discs were first issued separately. They make an obvious coupling as offered here.
Both have been reviewed before and those two reviews are as follows;


Fairy Tale and String serenade:
This disc, well recorded in 1992, features two early works by Josef Suk. The Serenade is the better known but the Fairy Tale suite is a most attractive piece, somewhat more embedded into the romantic styles current at that time - Richard Strauss for example. The music is not so involved dramatically or orchestrally and has a generally lighter touch. Dvorak was Suk's father-in law at the time of the Fairy Tale and Suk was his favourite pupil at the time of the Serenade. Dvorak was enthusiastic about both works and with good reason.

The Fairy Tale suite is in four movements and was originally written as incidental music for a stage play. However, as Suk became more and more involved with the plot, the music eventually outgrew the play and was later re-arranged to form this separate suite where each movement is like a mini tone poem. This is a very persuasive performance by an orchestra and conductor deeply sympathetic to the Czech idiom and the performance carries considerable conviction.

Much the same can be said of the playing in the Serenade. This is a lighter work and is often paired with the Dvorak string Serenade which may well have been Suk's model. It follows Dvorak's advice to apply himself more to major keys rather than the minor keys which Suk had previously favoured. This resulted in a predominately happy work which has been Suk's most popular work ever since.

Suk's finest work, the Asrael symphony, is a much more serious work and was written following the death of both Dvorak and then Suk's wife, Dvorak's daughter, both at an early age and within a year of each other. None of that experience touches either of the works on this disc which provide an altogether happier listening experience.


The Asrael Symphony

As mentioned above, this is considered to be Suk's masterpiece. It was written in anguished circumstances following the deaths of Dvorak, his father-in-law in 1904 and then his wife in 1905. Suk was just 31 years old at that time and this double tragedy changed his outlook. The symphony was written with this background in mind and consists of five movements three of which are slow and one of the remaining two is predominantly slow.

The opening motif of fate and the rising and falling figure of death in the long opening movement are recurring themes in the work. The second movement, following without a pause, quotes from Dvorak's own Requiem and is centred around a funeral march idea. The fateful figure of Death also appears in the third movement, a sort of desperate scherzo.

The last two movements form a second half to this work. It starts with a movement recalling his wife, Otilka and the symphony ends with a movement depicting his struggles to cope with the new situation and, once more, much use is made of the fate and death motifs.

This is a powerful work and not a depressing as the above description may suggest. This performance is very good indeed and gets to the core of the work with playing of empathy from the Czech orchestra. Chandos provide their customary excellent sound of good depth, range and dynamic bite.

I would suggest that this pair of discs makes a satisfying coupling and provide a rounded portrayal of this composer with some of his best works.
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