Author Topic: Josef Suk 1875-1935  (Read 12620 times)

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Online vandermolen

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Josef Suk 1875-1935
« on: March 28, 2009, 04:22:22 PM »
Very surprised that there has not, as far as I can see, been a thread devoted to this great composer. I have just bought the new excellent CD of Suk's magnificent 'Asrael Symphony' (see below). This is Suk's masterpiece, inspired by the death of his father-in-law, Dvorak and the death of his young wife, Otylka. In many ways it is a very tragic work, quite Mahlerian in places, which eventually arrives at a kind of fragile acceptance of fate, which is deeply moving. Suk's other works are of a uniformly high standard (including some lovely chamber works), but Asrael stands head and shoulders above everything else:
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2009, 04:29:19 PM »
Very surprised that there has not, as far as I can see, been a thread devoted to this great composer. I have just bought the new excellent CD of Suk's magnificent 'Asrael Symphony' (see below). This is Suk's masterpiece, inspired by the death of his father-in-law, Dvorak and the death of his young wife, Otylka. In many ways it is a very tragic work, quite Mahlerian in places, which eventusally sarrives at a kind of fragile acceptance of fate, which is deeply moving. Suk's other works are of a uniformly high standard (including some lovely chamber works), but Asrael stands head and shoulders above everything else:


Suk's one of the greats of the early 20th century, one of the most interesting and personal of the late romantics, and I'm with you on all of the above - except, perhaps, the ranking of the magnificent Asrael above everything else! Not only are there other orchestral pieces which I think are equally fine (personally, I think Pohadka Leta - A Summer's Tale - is even finer and more subtle) but there's also a risk of equating scale of utterance with quality. Asrael has a flipside, for instance, in the piano cycle About Mother which Suk wrote for his son - the same depth of feeling concerning the same tragedy, but here painfully intimate and familial in tone, not projected onto a cosmic canvas as is the case with the orchestral work. I think the two works complement each other perfectly - and that it's only a matter of taste as to which is more powerful. As I tend to react more strongly to intimacy and fragility in music than I do to large-scale, ambitious piece, About Mother affects me even more than Asrael.

Offline J

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2009, 04:47:22 PM »
I've always especially loved Suk's cantata "Under the Apple Tree" and the Serenade.  I'm amazed at how many recordings of Asrael are now in the catalog - a dozen or more.  I bought the Pesek/Virgin CD back when I believe the only alternatives were Kubelik and Neumann.  Are any of the subsequent releases consensually (ha - does that ever happen) superior to Pesek? 
« Last Edit: March 28, 2009, 04:49:19 PM by J »

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2009, 04:48:45 PM »
I am not absolutely sure that I can agree either with you, Jeffrey, that 'Asrael' is Suk's masterpiece-fantastically fine work though it certainly is, moving, powerful and passionate.

Two of Suk's later big works are equally impressive, in my opinion. They are both large-scale and ambitious(sorry, Luke :)) but the Symphonic Poem 'Ripening'('Zrani') of 1913-18 and the 'Epilogue' for soloists, chorus and orchestra which Suk worked on from 1920 until 1932 are masterpieces of rich, complex harmony and profound and visionary spirit. Essential parts of any Suk collection :)

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2009, 04:51:59 PM »
...They are both large-scale and ambitious(sorry, Luke :))...

yes, well, I could hardly expect anything else, could I  ;D ;D ;) ;)    Wonderful pieces, of course, these two. Though I still prefer Summer's Tale because it has a greater transparency and lightness and many of Suk's most potent thematic ideas - it's a wonderfully shimmering work that never loses focus.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2009, 04:53:31 PM »
I've always especially loved Suk's cantata "Under the Apple Tree" and the Serenade.  I'm amazed at how many recordings of Asrael are now in the catalog - a dozen or more.  I bought the Pesek/Virgin CD back when I believe the only alternatives were Kubelik and Neumann.  Are any of the subsequent releases consensually (ha - does that ever happen) superior to Pesek? 

I too have the Pesek version of 'Asrael' and have been very happy with it but the Chandos/Czech PO/Belohlavek gets excellent write-ups as being just that bit more urgent and better played.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2009, 04:58:46 PM »
yes, well, I could hardly expect anything else, could I  ;D ;D ;) ;)    Wonderful pieces, of course, these two. Though I still prefer Summer's Tale because it has a greater transparency and lightness and many of Suk's most potent thematic ideas - it's a wonderfully shimmering work that never loses focus.

Oh dear...my tastes are so predictably gargantuan ;D ;D

I agree that 'A Summer's Tale' is a beautiful piece :) Actually, I am not sure that Suk, who was a superb musical craftsman, was capable of writing music that was not beautifully constructed and full of life(although the 'War Triptych' does contain some pretty bombastic passages!).

Online vandermolen

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2009, 05:14:02 PM »
Thanks for responses. Some, if not all of you, know more of Suk's music than I do - but at least we started a discussion on a very fine composer. Apart from Asrael and the chamber music I like the CD below - especially the Legend of the Dead Victors (which is, I fear, the piece Colin finds bombastic  ;D) and the Meditation on an Old Czech Hymn. St Wenceslas (the last piece in this tryptich 'Towards a New Life' is indeed bombastic - but I rather like the symphonic poem, 'Prague', with its very atmospheric opening). I will certainly look out for  piano piece 'About Mother' - thanks Sul.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2009, 05:16:44 PM by vandermolen »
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2009, 05:48:14 PM »
Thanks for responses. Some, if not all of you, know more of Suk's music than I do - but at least we started a discussion on a very fine composer. Apart from Asrael and the chamber music I like the CD below - especially the Legend of the Dead Victors (which is, I fear, the piece Colin finds bombastic  ;D) and the Meditation on an Old Czech Hymn. St Wenceslas (the last piece in this tryptich 'Towards a New Life' is indeed bombastic - but I rather like the symphonic poem, 'Prague', with its very atmospheric opening). I will certainly look out for  piano piece 'About Mother' - thanks Sul.

Oh, don't worry about me finding 'Towards a New Life' "bombastic". The word is not pejorative in my dictionary ;D ;D

Offline Daverz

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2009, 06:06:23 PM »
I haven't heard the new Ashkenazy Asrael, but the Kubelik leaves Pesek and Neumann in the dust.  He just seems to understand the music so much better.  It may be heard to find at a reasonable price, and I'll admit that I downloaded it via bittorrent.  Talich is also special, of course, but the work really needs the best sound possible. 


Offline Grazioso

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2009, 04:15:41 AM »
Here's a worthy box set for newcomers to Suk:



Personally, I prefer his sunnier, more Dvorakian works from before the deaths of his wife and father-in-law. And over Asrael, I'd recommend Summer Tale:



(The included Fantastic Scherzo is a prime example of the earlier, cheerier, more immediately melodic Suk. This could easily be a popular canonical piece.)
« Last Edit: March 29, 2009, 04:18:32 AM by Grazioso »
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2009, 11:29:33 AM »
And over Asrael, I'd recommend Summer Tale:



(The included Fantastic Scherzo is a prime example of the earlier, cheerier, more immediately melodic Suk. This could easily be a popular canonical piece.)

Of the two Summer's Tale recordings I have heard, I like the Mackerras above slightly better, but Pešek's (below) is a marvelous one, too.  Like Asrael, a great piece, filled with imagination and many interesting colors.

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Online vandermolen

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2009, 01:48:03 PM »
Here's a worthy box set for newcomers to Suk:



Personally, I prefer his sunnier, more Dvorakian works from before the deaths of his wife and father-in-law. And over Asrael, I'd recommend Summer Tale:



(The included Fantastic Scherzo is a prime example of the earlier, cheerier, more immediately melodic Suk. This could easily be a popular canonical piece.)

These are both excellent recommendations.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Superhorn

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #13 on: April 02, 2009, 08:57:39 AM »
   Another great work of Suk is "The Ripening", which might be called Ein Heldenleben for introverts. The work is intended to portray the process of maturing as a person,going through the various trials and tribulations of life.
  I found that this took a number of hearings to grasp, but I'm glad I made the effort.
   I have the superb Supraphon recording with the great Vaclav Talich and the Czech Philharmonic, in dated but listenable sound, coupled with the engaging suite from Raduz and Mahulena, the music to the play.
  I've also heard the more recent version with Libor Pesek and Liverpool,
also excellent, in up to date sound,coupled with Praga.
  I would recommend either,but if you want much better sound, go with Pesek.

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2009, 09:03:16 AM »
Confession time: As a hormonally charged youth in my early twenties, the reason I bought those Suk CDs from Supraphon was for the beautiful paintings of the nudes.

The fact that I discovered a great composer as a result is just the bonus that came with it. Can't name a favorite, but Epilogue, A Summer's Tale, Asrael and Ripening are all wonderful. The piano quartet and piano works are later discoveries.
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Offline schweitzeralan

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2009, 07:19:29 AM »
I am not absolutely sure that I can agree either with you, Jeffrey, that 'Asrael' is Suk's masterpiece-fantastically fine work though it certainly is, moving, powerful and passionate.

Two of Suk's later big works are equally impressive, in my opinion. They are both large-scale and ambitious(sorry, Luke :)) but the Symphonic Poem 'Ripening'('Zrani') of 1913-18 and the 'Epilogue' for soloists, chorus and orchestra which Suk worked on from 1920 until 1932 are masterpieces of rich, complex harmony and profound and visionary spirit. Essential parts of any Suk collection :)

I think that all three are magnificent masterpieces.  I listen to Suk frequently, as well as to Novak, Martinu, Janacek and Dobias.  Amazing musical country.

Offline Superhorn

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #16 on: April 04, 2009, 07:03:16 AM »
   I've always regretted that Suk never wrote any operas. His father-in-law Dvorak,Janacek and and Smetana all wrote wonderful operas.
  Does any one have an idea why Suk never did?  I'be be curious if any one has any ideas about this.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #17 on: April 04, 2009, 07:46:02 AM »
Suk was a very introspective individual. His music, certainly after 1905 (with the exception of the War Triptych),  is concentrated on the internal emotions felt by the composer himself in response to love and to loss-the shattering deaths in such close proximity of his father-in-law, Dvorak, and his wife. The more 'public' genre of opera with its focus on the characters and responses of others appears to have held no attraction for Suk.

Incidentally, the Ashkenazy version of the 'Asrael Symphony' recently released got a pretty tepid review in 'International record Review'. The first movement was described as 'flaccid'.

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #18 on: April 04, 2009, 08:43:28 AM »
Although I've never been able to get a handle on "A Summer's Tale" - too big and Mahlerian for me, at least for now - I am absolutely bowled over by the central movement, "Blind Musicians." So exquisite, so subtle, so heart-wrenching - brilliant.

Also an enormous fan of the Serenade for Strings, and would like to point out that the early, Dvorakian Symphony has one rockin' Bohemian scherzo.

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Re: Josef Suk 1875-1935
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2009, 01:45:10 PM »
Although I've never been able to get a handle on "A Summer's Tale" - too big and Mahlerian for me, at least for now - I am absolutely bowled over by the central movement, "Blind Musicians." So exquisite, so subtle, so heart-wrenching - brilliant.

Gorgeous, isn't it? Like the still mysterious hub around which the rest revolves. Not that I have the problem you relate with the rest of the work. I understand it, however - it just seems to me to be more of an issue with, say Ripening or Epilogue, which are longer, less concise spans of music than A Summer's Tale. It's a piece which seems, to me, to wear its form lightly and in the most dazzling colours. (I don't hear it as Mahlerian, btw - by the time of A Summer's Tale Suk was one of the few composers of his late-Romantic ilk to have discovered a truly personal, instantly recognisable style, and I think he goes beyond the stage of needing to be referred to in terms of any one else!  :) )

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