SUK: A Summer's Tale / A Winter's Tale (Andrew Mogrelia/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553703)
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Josef Suk (1874-1935)
A Summer's Tale, Op. 29
A Winter's Tale,Op. 9
Josef Suk belongs to the second generationof Czech nationalist composers, after Smetana and Dvorak. He was born in 1874in Krecovice, the son of a village schoolmaster and began to play the violin atthe age of eight and later the piano, writing his first composition, a Polka,in 1882. At the age of eleven he entered the Prague Conservatory, studyingthe violin with the director Antonin Bennewitz and theory with Josef Foerster.
His chamber-music teacher, during an extra year of study in 1891, was HanusWihan, for whom Dvorak wrote his famous Cello Concerto in B minor andwho trained the distinguished Czech Quartet in which Suk played second violinuntil his retirement in 1933 with the consequent disbanding of the quartet,after giving some four thousand concerts. He studied composition first withKarel Stecker and, after his graduation in 1891, studied with Dvorak, whosefavourite pupil he became. In 1898 he married the latter's daughter Otilie,whose death in 1905 brought him great sadness, leading to the composition ofhis Asrael Symphony. He taught composition at the Prague Conservatory,of which he later became director, and as a teacher exercised a stronginfluence over a whole generation of Czech composers. He died in 1935.
In spite of Suk's long career in chambermusic, his major compositions are largely those written for orchestra, from theDramatic Ovel1ure of his graduation from Dvorak's class on to a seriesof symphonic poems and his powerful Asrael Symphony, dedicated to thememory of his wife. His Musical Tale for Orchestra, Pohadka Leta (A Summer'sTale), was first sketched out during the course of a few months in 1907, tobe orchestrated the following year. It is scored for a large orchestra ofpiccolo, pairs of flutes, oboes, cor anglais and clarinets, a bass clarinet,two bassoons, double bassoon, six French horns, three trumpets, threetrombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, tam-tam, bass drum, piano, twoharps, celesta and strings, with an optional organ part. The work, which isdedicated to the Czech conductor and composer Karel Kovarovic, who conductedthe first performance in Prague in January 1909, continues the emotionalnarrative of the Asrael Symphony, opening with a movement under thetitle Voice of Life and Consolation. Here Man is shown dogged by thecruelty of Fate and now seeking escape in nature, his sadness represented bythe sighing chords of muted double basses over sustained and muted French hornoctaves at the outset. The first full theme to emerge is heard from violins andoboes, the theme of man, which mounts to a dynamic climax. A distant coranglais introduces nature in a second theme, in which other instruments join, amelody derived from the death theme in Asrael. This material is workedout in traditional symphonic form, leading to an idyllic closing section,initiated by a solo violin, accompanied by harp arpeggios, with a recurrentfigure from the first theme constantly returning. The opening sighs, now inless poignant mood, are heard again, as the movement reaches an optimisticconclusion.
The sun is high in the sky at noon, theland shimmering in the haze of summer heat. The noon theme is heard frompiccolo and bass clarinet. A solo trumpet introduces a second idea and, brieflyprefaced by the timpani, the brass chants a hymn to the sun. The first themereturns, played now by oboes and clarinets. The other thematic material isheard again and the movement ends in tranquillity with a memory of the thirdmelody.
Blind musicians wander through the heat ofthe summer countryside in the third movement. Suk had intended to use thematerial as funeral music for a re- staging of the play Rad?? a Mahulena byJulius Zeyer, for which he had earlier written incidental music. Harp chordsprovide an accompaniment to two cor anglais, to be followed by a solo violinand solo viola, mingling then with the cor anglais, as the movement movestowards its ending.
The fourth movement, In the Power ofPhantoms, finds the protagonist in the power of the fantasmata of thenight, nightmarish creatures, interspersed with pleasanter dreams. The slowerintroduction leads to a Scherzo, where soon a trumpet provides a furtherthematic element. There is contrast in an Andante, in which clarinets,including the bass clarinet, are heard at first, leading to music of romanticintensity before the return of the scherzo material, with the trumpetmelody extended in contrapuntal mockery .Finally day banishes thesefantasmagoria and all ends at peace.
Night concludes the tale, with conflictnow resolved. Themes from the first movement, those of nature and man, areheard, with music of tender yearning, leading to a hymn to night, thecounterpart of the earlier hymn to the sun. Finally, thematic elementsremembered from the whole work come together in gentle tranquillity.
The overture Pohadka Zimniho Vecera (AWinter's Tale or Tale of a Winter's Evening) is based on Shakespeareand was written in 1894, to be revised in 1926. The play itself is concernedwith the jealousy of Leontes, King of Sicilia, who suspects his wife Hermioneof infidelity with his friend and guest Polixenes, King of Bohemia. He iseventually restored to his senses and his wife, after her seeming death, to life,when what had appeared to be her statue comes once more alive. The variouselements in the play include comedy with the cunning pedlar Autolycus andpastoral scenes with the daughter of Leontes and Hermione, Perdita, abandonedat birth on her father's orders and brought up in a country village. Theoverture may be supposed to be programmatic, coming at a time when Dvorakhimself had turned to the composition of programmatic symphonic poems. It isscored for a slightly smaller orchestra than the later A Summer's Tale, makinguse of a single cor anglais, four horns and a single harp, in instrumentationthat in general is similar. The overture starts with a slow introduction, inwhich a clarinet motif is heard against a descending figure for muted violins.
The timpani add a sinister element, before the appearance of the clarinet motiffrom the oboe, developed more fully by other instruments. The music grows inintensity, leading to an Allegro con fuoco and a theme of Wagnerianpattern, introduced by violas and cellos. The earlier clarinet motif ushers ina second theme. A pastoral dance theme is heard from the oboe, developed insequence. Earlier themes are developed and return, until conflict is resolvedand a final section, marked Tranquillo, may be supposed to bring thehappy ending that marks the close of the drama.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra wasfounded in 1929 as the first professional music ensemble to meet broadcastingneeds in Slovakia. The orchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductorFrantisek Dyk and in the course of the past seventy years of its existence hasworked under the direction of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.
Ondrej Lenard was appointed its principal conductor in 1977 and a number of theorchestra's successful performances abroad are connected with his name. WhenRobert Stankovsky took over the orchestra in 1993, regular concert performancesfollowed, at home and abroad, with important recordings for the radio and forforeign companies. The major recording partner of the orchestra remains HNHInternational Ltd, the parent company of Naxos and Marco Polo, for which theorchestra has so far r