Belgian National Orchestra / Josef Suk / Walter Weller

Josef Suk: Symphony No. 2 "Asrael"; Legend of the Dead Victors

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It's a veritable virtual Asrael avalanche! This recording of Josef Suk's masterpiece, with Walter Weller leading the National Orchestra of Belgium, was the third to be released in 2009. The Asrael Symphony is one of the great musical monuments to grief, but it's such a strong piece that it hasn't worn out its welcome. The work expresses the composer's shattered love in response to the recent deaths of his mentor Dvorák and his wife Otilka, but his heart-rending anguish is completely controlled by his superb compositional technique, and the score only grows deeper and more moving as one becomes more familiar with it. Weller's reading is in what might be called an international style. Instead of the singing lyricism typical of Czech performances, Weller gives the work a more generalized fin de siècle cast, showing its kinship to contemporaneous works by Mahler and Magnard. Like Ashkenazy, Flor, and Petrenko in their recordings, Weller is successful at depicting its pain and suffering, and expressing its love and consolation. The Belgian musicians perform brilliantly in a work that cannot have been familiar to them. Coupled with a stoic account of Suk's much later Legend of the Dead Victors, this disc will not surpass the legendary premiere recording by Vaclav Talich, nor equal the later recordings of Kubelik, Pesek, and Belohlávek, but this is nonetheless a moving performance that should be of interest to anyone who loves the work. Fuga Libera's digital sound is a bit heavy and distant, but still very present in the climaxes.

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