Josef Suk / Vladimir Ashkenazy

Dvorák: Songs My Great-Grandfather Taught Me

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Here's a little curiosity pairing Dvorák's great-grandson, the octogenarian Josef Suk III, with the only somewhat younger Vladimir Ashkenazy in arrangements for violin or viola (or both) and piano of Dvorák's songs. The project originated not with either of those giants but with Toccata label executive Martin Anderson, whose expressed goal was apparently to promote awareness of the composer's historically neglected songs. This neglect may be due to the general lack of familiarity with the Czech language; perhaps, the thinking went, nonverbal versions of the songs would help to put them across. Even if this idea does not fully succeed, there's a certain gentle charm in the entire enterprise, and annotator Tully Potter (the notes are in English only) notes that Dvorák, who arranged some of these songs for string quartet, would probably not have objected to it. And indeed the opening Gypsy Songs, Op. 55, which are less gypsy-like even than Brahms' related pieces, and the Love Songs, Op. 83, work well as violin-and-piano pieces, with numerous good examples of Dvorák's melodic gift beyond the well-known Songs My Mother Taught Me, track 4. The centerpiece of the program is less convincing, perhaps because one badly wants it to succeed: the Biblical Songs, Op. 99, are masterpieces of Dvorák's American period and arguably some of the greatest hidden gems of the entire art song repertory. The prayerful, pause-filled idiom of these pieces does not transfer so well to the viola and a wan quality to the sound also impedes these performances. The lover of Czech music, however, will generally be pleased with this unusual item.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Gypsy Songs, Op. 55
1 2:58
2 0:54
3 2:23
4 2:09
5 0:58
6 1:10
7 1:37
In Folk Tone, Op. 73
8 2:23
9 2:38
Love Songs, Op. 83
10 1:49
11 1:54
12 1:04
13 1:56
14 1:24
15 1:47
16 1:37
17 1:23
Four Songs, Op. 82
18 2:26
19 1:43
Biblical Songs, Op. 99
20 1:56
21 1:43
22 2:41
23 2:25
24 2:31
25 2:49
26 2:28
27 2:30
28 1:51
29 1:50
Moravian Duets, Op. 32
30 2:53
blue highlight denotes track pick