Czech Philharmonic Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

Josef Suk: Asrael

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AllMusic Review by

Since Josef Suk's Symphony in C minor, "Asrael," is being recorded more frequently, admirers of this dark post-Romantic masterpiece will find they have more first-rate versions to recommend than just the long-revered 1952 performance by Vaclav Talich and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Charles Mackerras performed the symphony in 2007 with the CPO, and his impassioned account is among the finest available on CD, thanks to the conductor's profound sympathy with Czech music and his musicians' exceptional playing. This work is a symphonic requiem, composed in the aftermath of the deaths of Suk's father-in-law, Antonin Dvorák, and of his young wife, Otilie; the association with Azrael, the Jewish and Islamic Angel of Death, brings home the themes of grief, pain, and consolation. In power and size, Suk's music approaches the impact and scale of the Mahlerian symphony, and at an hour in duration, it is an emotionally draining experience to follow the symphony's arc from tragedy to transfiguration. Yet despite the shattering force of "Asrael," especially in the devastating climax of the opening movement, there are many passages of transcendant loveliness in the score, and the close of the Finale is luminous. Mackerras and the orchestra are superbly recorded by Supraphon, and the wide dynamic range of the live performance is captured, from the softest pizzicato to the most forceful tutti.

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