Extract from Dvořák Society Newsletter 93 (October 2010)
Graham Melville-Mason is a Patron of the Dvořák Society and former Chairman. In Newsletter 93, he reviewed this important Chandos recording by Jiří Bělohlávek —
Suk’s 1st Symphony and “Ripening (Zrání)” recorded by Jiří Bělohlávek for Chandos Records
Suk | Symphony No 1 in E (Op 14) [Jskat 40] | Ripening (Zrání) (Op 34) [Jskat 70]
(New London Chamber Choir, chorus master: James Weeks, BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek)
Chandos CHSA 5081
[SACD compatible with CD players: also available as download in various formats]———•••———
It is good to see Chandos renewing its association with Jiří Bělohlávek, an association begun twenty years ago with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra before that orchestra “cut off its nose to spite its face”. Now with the BBC Symphony Orchestra enjoying such a good relationship with Jiří Bělohlávek, it is to Chandos’s credit that it has restored the cooperation with the conductor and in interesting Czech repertoire.
Recordings of both of these Suk works are not exactly thick on the ground. Symphony No 1 has been recorded by Neumann, while Ripening (Zrání) has been recorded by Talich, Neumann and Petrenko but not all of these are currently available. Full of atmosphere and instrumental colour, the opening of Zrání sets the tone for this recording and performance, one which can only be described as full of beauty. In music which must be unfamiliar to British players, they give their chief conductor a performance more assured and idiomatic than any of the other readings post-Talich and it says a lot for them that clearly much extra individual work has gone into the preparation to give the conductor that extra confidence in interpretive freedom.
The change of mood at track 2 is effected with a naturalness in the transition to music of greater passion, followed by music of great tenderness (track 3) which is enhanced by subtle instrumental colouring before a short passage of challenging intensity, spirited from the players by the conductor and fitting with a logic that transforms itself into the more tranquil music which follows (track 4) with its own moments of agitated contrasts. These changing moods dominate in music which is both expressively charged and highly coloured as the work develops powerfully on its way eventually to its gentle, choir enhanced, magical conclusion, all superbly controlled, driven, caressed and painted by Jiří Bělohlávek.
The Symphony No 1 in E is no less successful. A work in the four movement late Romantic pattern, it also presents a variety of moods, particularly in the outer movements. Orchestral colour marks the pastoral-like opening and the conductor keeps the music moving forwards in writing which can so easily become bogged-down in lesser hands, as it takes on a more forceful and energetic nature, punctuated with attractive moments such as the clarinet and horn solos, and driven to an exciting climax.
The Adagio slow movement opens with the lovely singing quality of the principal clarinet’s solo, paced with such loving care by Jiří Bělohlávek who sustains the mood at this calm pace yet never allowing the flow to slow. The more impassioned moments are allowed to grow and decline so naturally and the theme is taken up with equal sensitivity by the oboe, with similar deft touches from horn and bassoon. A moment of dramatic climax comes and goes bafore the horn recalls the opening theme and the movement departs after a demonstration of superb orchestral control. After that, the following Allegro vivace is by way of a bright contrast, sprightly of rhythm and energetic in nature, with only a lilting trio section to momentarily interrupt but not dampen the essential jollity.
The finale takes us through the whole gamut of moods, the opening figure imaginatively developed and transformed. It is clear to hear how Suk took ideas from his teacher-father-in-law’s symphonic finales when structuring this movement and with touches of almost Elgarian grandioso and largamente. The young man in his mid-twenties had already learned much from Dvořák and as a professional player himself, how to write for the orchestra. Jiří Bělohlávek allows this extended movement to unfold and progress naturally, getting first class response from the players and building the whole to achieve a logically progressive and satisfyingly uplifting conclusion.