SUK: A Summer's Tale, Op. 29. Prague, Op. 26.
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Jiri Belohlavek continues his superb Chandos series of music of Josef Suk with two of his lesser-known works. A Summer's Tale is a lengthy (54:25) symphonic poem in five movements, descriptive of summer activities: Voices of Life and Consolation, Midday, Intermezzo, In the Power of Phantoms, and Night. Suk's sadness caused by the death in 1904 of Dvorák , and Suk's wife, Otilka (Dvorák's daughter), is apparent in this music. Suk considered A Summer's Tale to be the second in a cycle of major symphonic works beginning with Azrael, already recorded by Belohlavek; continuing with Ripening (REVIEW) and Epilogue. There are charming moments in A Summer's Tale (blind musicians accompanied by strumming harps night in the Intermezzo), but the "phantoms" are rather gentle. This is a lovely, sprawling score and receives a superlative performance from Belohlavek and the British orchestra. Prague is another symphonic poem for large orchestra. Written shortly after A Summer's Tale, this represents the history and legends of the city, often nationalistic and heroic in nature. Suk includes a brief description of the river Vitava, made famous by Smetana in his cycle My Fatherland. This is a distinguished series from Chandos. Audiophiles will enjoy the vivid, if rather bright sonic picture, and the engineers have beautifully captured the organ in both works.
For many months I have enjoyed the internet broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic. Audio quality has always been outstanding, with the engineering team working wonders with the problematic acoustics of Avery Fischer Hall. Nielsen's Symphony No 3 was performed June 14-15, 2012, Symphony No. 2, January 27-29 and February 1, 2010. Preben Iwan was the producer, Mikkel Nymand the engineer, and they have done a terrific job—the New York Philharmonic is in top form under the dynamic direction of Alan Gilbert, with no loss of momentum, even in the pastoral interludes of Symphony No. 3. Audio is full and satisfying, but not directional; rear speakers add fullness to the sound picture. Is this the beginning of a new series with the NYP on DaCapo? Hope so! The label really is competing with itself; their catalog already boasts what perhaps is the definitive interpretation of all six Nielsen symphonies with the Danish National Orchestra directed by Thomas Schonwandt, available on CD and on DVD in surround sound (REVIEW).
Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden continues to impress. He is recording all of the Bruckner symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, an orchestra he has been associated with for many years. Five of them (2, 4, 5, 7, 9) have been released in Europe, No. 8 is the only one yet issued in the U. S. It is a dynamic performance similar in many ways to Van Beinum's historic 1955 Concertgebouw recording—there could be no higher praise. Orchestral playing is outstanding and the recording, made in Hilversum in August 2011, captures Bruckner's rich textures beautifully although the "surround" effect is limited. A debit is that there are two discs, and this issue is not two for the price of one, which makes it quite costly. With today's technology, it is possible to get the entire work on a single disk.
R.E.B. (October 2012)