SUK:  Summer Tale, Op. 29.  Fantastic Scherzo, Op. 25
Czech Philharmonic Orch/Sir Charles Mackerras, cond.

DECCA 466 443  (F) (DDD) TT:  65:35 

Josef Suk (1874-1935) had an idyllic existence for many years. He was happily married to Dvorák's daughter Otylka, recognized musically for his Serenade for Strings (1892), incidental music for the play Rad˙z (1898), Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra (1902/3) and Fantastic Scherzo (1903).  However, this was not to last. Dvorák died in 1904 and the following year Suk's beloved wife also died. After this, Suk's composition took a far more serious turn as he questioned human existence and mortality of mankind. He wrote Azrael (1905/6) after the "Angel of Death" in Muslim mythology in which he laments the passing of the two most important people in his life. His next major work was Summer Tale (1907/9), which he called a "musical poem."

There are five sections to Summer Tale. It opens with "Voices of Life and Consolation," suggesting the healing ability of nature. The second and third movements are brief (5:36 & 5:10), the second called "Noon," which is a hot summer nature scene, the second, "Blind Musicians," an intermezzo representing pathetic poor men repeating the same sad tune. The "scherzo" of Summer Tale is the fourth movement, "In the Power of Phantoms," a diabolical but never threatening episode, and the finale, "Night," a serene nocturne concluding in affirmation.

Fantastic Scherzo, Op. 25 is a frothy quietly exuberant work preceding Stravinsky's work of the same name by about five years. Its gossamer textures —especially when played as delicately as on this new CD—are a delight. The Czech Philharmonic of course is totally familiar with all of this music; they recorded Summer Tale in 1957 with Karel Sejna conducting. Sir Charles Mackerras is a specialist in Czech music, evidenced by his many previous recordings of Dvorák.  Here he leads the Czech Philharmonic in glorious performances that have been spectacularly recorded by Decca's engineering crew working in Prague's Rudolfinum. The audio picture is stunning—a large orchestra playing in a fine hall, a natural presence, perfect balances, the sound of resin on the strings, and satisfying dynamic range. Perhaps never before has the CPO been so well recorded. An outstanding CD!

R.E.B. (April 2000)