Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fantastic orchestral music

From June 15, 2011:


Josef Suk was a student of Dvorak, and later his son-in-law, and his music definitely follows in the Czech tradition of Smetana and Dvorak. But his mature works are as much about the 20th century as the 19th. Suk was aware of and his music was coloured by familiarity with Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Mahler.

This new Naxos disc presents Czech pastoral scenes with exotic and fantastic elements. Though it partakes of folkloric elements, unlike Smetana or Dvorak Suk doesn't quote any actual folk songs. It's all very sophisticated, and Suk gives the music a bright shiny gloss through his clever orchestration and modernist hints.

The tone-poem Fairy Tale, op. 16, is an impressive work for a composer in his early 20s. Working in the "exotic east" genre popular with European composers at least since Mozart's "Turkish" music, Suk manages to make the music sound fresh and very much his own. The Fantastic Scherzo, written five years later, is more rustic, but just as individual. Both of these pieces are orchestral show-pieces that show off the strengths of the Buffalo musicians and conductor JoAnn Falletta's direction, and the clean, clear, bright, alive sound we've come to expect from Naxos.

But the best part of this collection is, I believe, the Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, a real surprise for me. This piece is another fantasy tone-poem, but this time with a part for concertante violin. The violin wanders a fantastic landscape in much the same way as the viola in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, though without an explicit programme. This music is dramatic and compelling, and violinist Michael Ludwig and conductor JoAnn Falletta really sell it. I couldn't believe that 23 minutes had passed when it was done.

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