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Josef Suk: Orchestral Works

Josef Suk: Orchestral Works


Suk:

Praga. Symphonic Poem, Op. 26

A Summer's Tale, Op. 29


Two symphonic poems by Suk are performed here by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, who also brought us the highly acclaimed recording of the composer’s First Symphony and Ripening, which was Disc of the Month in the magazine BBC Music.

A Summer’s Tale is a highly personal work, rich and imaginative, not to mention brilliantly orchestrated in late romantic style. The work followed the heartfelt and sorrowful outpouring of the Asrael Symphony of 1905 – 06, composed in memory of his father-in-law, Antonín Dvořák, and wife, Otilka.

In the words of the composer: ‘After wild fleeing I find consolation in nature’. The jubilation of the opening ‘Voices of Life and Consolation’ is thought to emphasise nature’s healing powers and the composer’s putting a positive face to the world after the bleakness of Asrael. ‘Midday’ depicts the all-embracing heat of noon, while the Intermezzo, ‘Blind Musicians’, expresses compassion for those who can never appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. The storm and wild longing of ‘In the Power of Phantoms’ give way finally to the mystical calm of ‘Night’.

The Symphonic Poem Prague is likewise strongly personal and atmospheric, speaking of the history and mystery of Suk’s home city, its troubles and its triumphs. The opening section conjures up a picture of the early morning mists rising from the Vltava, the river flowing through the city. The mists begin to lift and the ancient fortress of Vyšehrad emerges high above on its rock. Gradually the mists disperse and Prague appears in all its glory in the sunlight. The mood then darkens, now speaking of past troubled times; but the work ends on a jubilant note, in a triumphant blaze of glory.

“Belohlavek's pacing enhances Suk's abundant inspiration, often with intoxicating results. Throughout, the BBC Symphony Orchestra responds magnificently as an ensemble, bringing an almost operatic excitement to Prague...Both performances stand very high measured against the exacting tradition of some great Czech performances and are well served by this excellent recording.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2012 *****

“The language is highly wrought – late-romantic, with just occasional hints that Suk may have been aware of the musical world that Debussy had revealed – and Suk's models were presumably were Dvor˘ák's late symphonic poems. But Suk's efforts lack the conciseness and the dramatic instincts of his mentor's.” The Guardian, 29th August 2012 ***

“Excellent performances: Belohlávek has done wonders to acquaint us with the lesser-known Czech repertoire.” Financial Times, 15th September 2012 ****

“The orchestral sound may not be distinctively Czech, but the vibrant playing is full of character and brings the work ['Prague'] alive brilliantly...They bring the same dedication to A Summer's Tale...Bělohlávek and the BBC SO make a powerful and impassioned case for this intense work, one that deserves to be much wider known.” bbc.co.uk, 11th September 2012

“the Czech woodwinds are inimitably individual...Belohlavek holds the tension in both pieces from the first bar to the last. Wonderful.” Gramophone Magazine, Awards Issue 2012

“in this superb performance, it is the introspective passages [of 'Prague'] that impress and move.” Sunday Times, 14th October 2012

GGramophone Awards 2013

Winner - Orchestral

BBC Music Magazine

Disc of the month - October 2012

BBC Music Magazine Awards 2013

Orchestral Finalist

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Josef Suk: Orchestral Works

Josef Suk: Orchestral Works


Suk:

Symphony in E major, Op. 14

The Ripening, Op. 34

with New London Chamber Choir


The Czech maestro Jiří Bělohlávek performs works by his countryman Josef Suk, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he is their Chief Conductor.

As a composer, Josef Suk followed in the tradition of Smetana and Dvořák, the latter of whom was not only his professor at the Prague Conservatory, but also became his father-in-law – Suk married Dvořák’s oldest surviving daughter, Otilie, in 1898, and the death of Dvořák in 1904 and ‘Otilka’ a year later resulted in the composition of one of the composer’s most powerful and deeply felt works, the Asrael Symphony – also recorded by Bělohlávek (CHAN 9640).

Like Novák – another key Dvořák pupil – Suk fully embraced his national background, composing in a late romantic style imbued with his individual approach to impressionism and native folk culture.

Following the success of his Serenade in E flat, Suk wished to take up the challenge of writing a symphony, influenced as he was by the contributions to the genre of his own teacher, and of Brahms. Suk’s First Symphony was actually begun in London in 1897 and completed two years later. This new CD provides an excellent opportunity to hear the rarely recorded early work, with its fresh melodic appeal and inventive orchestration.

Ripening is one of the composer’s masterpieces, a highly colourful and superbly sustained symphonic poem, brilliantly orchestrated, with a chorus making its wordless contribution at the work’s late, emotional highpoint. Suk said of Ripening: ‘I worked on this composition for almost five years. In its very cohesive musical form you will find all degrees of human emotions. In this piece I immerse myself once more into the joys and tragic shadows of life but towards the end I emphasise, in the large fugue, that work is the liberator. After a large and passionate build-up of tension and excitement, towards the end a deep calm arrives in which, however, shimmers a hymn of affirmation and life.’

“Ripening, a symphonic poem, is a highly charged piece, full of poignant emotion and anguished outbursts. Its power is echoed by the First Symphony...in which Belohlávek inspires the BBCSO to a blazing performance.” The Telegraph, 2nd September 2010 ****

“The symphony is attractively neat and satisfying, but Ripening is on a completely new emotional plane, with a Mahlerian juxtaposition of emotions, a scintillating emotional thrust and a virtuoso handling of the orchestra...What you hear on the CD is as much an astonishing testament to the abilities of modern day sound engineers as it is a fine performance.” Classic FM Magazine, December 2010 *****

“Jiri Belohlávek's tender reading of this 1917 symphonic poem is flooded with dewy woodwind and glowing strings.” The Independent, 21st November 2010

BBC Music Magazine

Disc of the month - November 2010

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Martinu: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Martinu: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2


Martinu:

Cello Concerto No. 1, H.196

Cello Concerto No. 2

Concertino for Cello, Winds, Percussion & Piano in C minor, H. 143


Cello Concertos Nos 1 and 2 are fully characteristic of Martinu and exemplary of the influence that France, in particular, had on his composition. They contain some of his best music and are here complemented by an early Cello Concertino.

This popular recording by Raphael Wallfisch and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Jirí Belohlávek is now available on the Chandos Classics label. The repertoire is rarely recorded and the disc will prove attractive on the market, at a highly competitive price.

‘All in all, a most attractive recording, which can easily serve as the sole representative of this music in anyone’s collection.’ Fanfare

‘Whatever else may be on your “must” list of classical CDs to buy, move it all down a notch and put this one on top. The two full-scale Martinu concertos on this disc can stand honourably with the few cello concertos ever programmed. Wallfisch brings a compelling mix of technical first and expressive insight… Not enough can be said for Chandos’ vibrant recording which puts real life-blood in the cello sound.’ ‘Disc of the Month’, CD Review

“Recorded in 1991, Wallfisch's consummate virtuosity and considerable lyrical gifts illuminate Martinu's solo writing like no other.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2009

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Joseph Marx: Orchestral Songs and Choral Works

Joseph Marx: Orchestral Songs and Choral Works


Marx:

Barkarole

Der bescheidene Schäfer

Hat dich die Liebe berurht

Maienblüten

Marienlied

Piemontesisches Volkslied

Selige Nacht

Sommerlied

Ständchen (No. 2 from Italienisches Liederbuch)

Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht

Waldseligkeit

Zigeuner

Herbstchor an Pan

Ein Neujahrshymnus

Berghymne

Morgengesang


The Austrian composer Joseph Marx was for much of his long career a musical authority of world renown. Within his large output, his songs were amongst his greatest musical achievements, unifying romanticism, impressionism and expressionism with revolutionary results. Many thought him the rightful successor to Hugo Wolf and yet today the name and music of Joseph Marx have fallen into obscurity.

The ‘Marx style’ is unmistakable. It is characterised by a highly personal compositional technique displaying a polyphonic harmony of full sonority, allied to masterly contrapuntal skills, and frequent key changes which occur apparently at random but are in fact distributed with utter logic. The music strikes the listener as timeless, refreshingly modern and, above all, surprising, able to exploit tonal means of expression to the full and raise the spirits of every true lover of melody.

Chandos’ Record of the Month sees Jirí Belohlávek conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the long overdue premiere of four choral works, along with the first complete recording of Marx’s orchestral songs for soprano, performed by Christine Brewer.

Three works are of particular note. Herbstchor an Pan, a single-movement cantata written in 1911, lasts very nearly twenty minutes and was Marx’s first, and for many years only, orchestral composition. It has inexplicably fallen into oblivion in the past five decades. However, it has turned out to be one of the masterpieces of its entire era. Ein Neujahrshymnus (A Hymn for the New Year) is richly orchestrated and demonstrates the profound romantic vein of Joseph Marx; it is here performed for the first time in its orchestral version. This disc represents not only the first recording of Berghymne but also its world premiere performance.

We are indebted to the Marx Society for their efforts to promote this composer, and allowing the wider public to hear the outstanding quality of his works. The greatness of the music is indisputable and this recording will make for an important addition to the classical music catalogue.

“The luxuriantly recorded Chandos disc is particularly welcome for featuring premiere recordings of four relatively early choral pieces including the lavishly scored Herbstchor an Pan… Performed here with considerable emotional conviction by Jirí Belohlávek and the massed forces of the Trinity Boys Choir and the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, it is by far the most striking of these works... Those drawn to the creamy sonorities of a soprano voice soaring above a lush orchestral fabric will find much to savour in Christine Brewer's warm and ecstatic renditions of 'Barkarole', 'Selige Nacht' and 'Sommerlied'...” BBC Music Magazine, February 2009 ****

“Post-Wagnerian richness and lush harmony marks Marx's orchestral songs. Christine Brewer has the floating purity of voice to soar easily over Marx's beautifully judged textures in for instance "Selige Nacht" and "Maienblüten", both rapt in manner and unashamedly reflective, the latter suggesting the atmosphere of Strauss's Four Last Songs.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2009

“The most substantial work in this selection of Joseph Marx's orchestral songs and choral pieces is the Herbstchor an Pan ('Autumn Hymn to Pan'), his first orchestral work (1911) but one in which his easy mastery of a rich instrumental palette is already evident. His idiom was formed early and changed little: indeed, he had little sympathy with change, and notoriously failed to mention Schoenberg, Berg or even Hindemith when he brought out Weltsprache Musik, a book of aesthetics and philosophy, in the last year of his life, 1964.
It should be no surprise, then, to find that here is a rich, post-Wagnerian manner, luscious in harmony and sensuous in orchestration. Christine Brewer has the floating purity of voice to soar easily over Marx's beautifully judged textures in, for instance Selige Nacht and Maienblüten, both rapt in manner and unashamedly reflective, the latter suggesting the atmosphere of Strauss's Four Last Songs. Some similarity betwen Marx and Delius suggests that they had both moved away from Wagnerian harmony in comparable directions, influenced by a pantheistic response to nature: lovers of Delius's SeaDrift may appreciate the harmonic flavour and modulatory side-slips of the Herbstchor an Pan. It is in this vein that Marx seems at his most effective; the more exuberant songs sound rather laboured and their jollity contrived. Belohlávek draws a suitably rich manner from the orchestra and gives Brewer loyal support with textures that are full but always lucid, and served well by the recording.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

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Suk: Asrael Symphony

Suk: Asrael Symphony


Suk:

Asrael Symphony, Op. 27

A Fairy Tale, Op. 16

Serenade for String Orchestra in E flat, Op. 6


Building a Library

First Choice - April 2010

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Janacek, Martinu & Suk: Orchestral Works

Janacek, Martinu & Suk: Orchestral Works


Janacek:

Sinfonietta

Martinu:

Symphony No. 6 'Fantaises symphoniques'

Suk:

Fantastické Scherzo Op. 25


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Martinu: Symphony No. 1 & Double Concerto

Martinu: Symphony No. 1 & Double Concerto


Martinu:

Symphony No. 1 (1942)

Double Concerto for Strings, Piano & Timpani

Jaroslav Saroun (piano), Václav Mazacek (timpani)


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Dvorak: Stabat Mater & Psalm 149

Dvorak: Stabat Mater & Psalm 149


Dvorak:

Stabat Mater, Op. 58

for soli, chorus and orchestra

Psalm 149 Op. 79 (B.154)

for chorus and orchestra


Aldo Baldin (tenor), Livía Aghova (soprano), Ludek Vele (bass), Marga Schiml (contralto)

Bambini Di Praga, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jirí Belohlavek

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Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 & The Golden Spinning Wheel

Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 & The Golden Spinning Wheel


Dvorak:

Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88

The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109


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Martinu: Symphony No. 4 & Memorial to Lidice

Martinu: Symphony No. 4 & Memorial to Lidice


Martinu:

Memorial to Lidice, H. 296

Field Mass

Symphony No. 4


“The luscious, intricately scored pages of the bighearted Fourth Symphony sound opulent in this recording. For the most part, the playing is glorious, intoxicating in its richness and sure-footed poise. But there's some lack of intensity and temperament, so, for a more considered Belohlávek account, look to his more recent Supraphon disc, reviewed above.
His performance of the Field Mass, on the other hand, is an undoubted success. It's wonderfully fervent, boasting a noble-toned, impassioned contribution from the baritone, Ivan Kusnjer, and disciplined, sonorous work from the men of the Czech Philharmonic Chorus. Chandos's recording captures it all to perfection: blend and focus impeccably combined. The moving Memorialto Lidice completes this ideally chosen triptych.
Bearing a dedication 'To the Memory of the Innocent Victims of Lidice', Martinu's score was written in response to the destruction of that village by the Nazis in June 1942. One of the composer's most deeply felt creations, this is an eightminute orchestral essay of slumbering power, incorporating at its climax a spine-chilling quotation from Beethoven's Fifth. It, too, receives sensitive advocacy here.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

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