Janáček and Suk

Works by two Czech composers yesterday evening at the Royal Festival Halll, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

Leoš Janáček is of course well known, particularly for his operas such as Jenůfa, Káťa Kabanová and Věc Makropulos. The concert opened with two of his shorter works: Taras Bulba and The Eternal Gospel. The former is based on a novel by Gogol - also the subject of an opera and several films (including a Hollywood one with Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis) - which tells the violent sorty of a Ukranian Cossack and his struggles against the occupying and tyrannical Poles. Janáček's tone poem is suitably dramatic, in his characteristic plangent style.

The Eternal Gospel (Věčné evangelium) is a short cantata for chorus, orchestra and two soloists. The advertised tenor was ill, and replaced at very short notice by Adrian Thompson, who gave no indication of any uncertainty or lack of rehearsal (and the part isn't easy, and in Czech to boot). It's an effective and individual work, leading to Janáček's later full-length Glagolitic Mass.

Josef Suk (1874-1935) isn't well known in the UK (though his violinist grandson of the same name was fairly well known in the 1970s from his Supraphon records): he composed many works in Czech Romantic style. He was strongly influenced by Dvořák and also married Dvořák's daughter, and was much distressed by Dvořák's death in 1904: while composing an extended work inspired by this event his wife died suddenly. The resultant work, the Asrael Symphony (Azrael is the traditional name of the Archangel of Death) flows from Suk's grief: despite its origins it's not a gloomy work, though it does work through grief and fear, only reaching a calm conclusion at the very end. Running for an hour, it's complex and detailed, with rich orchestration. It's very rarely played, though there are a couple of recordings around (one a SACD), but well worth hearing. It can't be easy to lead the work through its long path but Jurowski handled it magnificently, as did the orchestra. Suk himself said about writing the symphony, 'music saved me'.

A recording of this concert is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday February 24th at 7.30 PM, and will be available on the 'iPlayer' for 7 days thereafter.

Posted: Sun - February 21, 2010 at 10:53 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM