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JOSEF SUK - Asrael
Symphony in C minor, Op. 27

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras

Supraphon SU 4043-2 [Released March 2011]

This account of Josef Suk's great commemorative funeral symphony Asrael brings together many losses, Suk's of his teacher and father-in-law Antonín Dvořák, Suk’s own young wife and Dvořák’s daughter Otilie. The symphony is a story of great suffering and its overcomingtowards solace and hope.

Sir Charles Mackerras’s great live recording of Asrael originated in 2007, by which time he probably recognised that he had not long to live; he continued conducting and recoding almost until his own death in 2010. He had first heard about Asrael from his conducting teacher and Suk’s close friend, Václav Talich, whose own recording of Asrael (1952, R) Mackerras considered to be "the most powerful and greatest there is". Sir Charles confessed that he came to see Asrael in a completely different light after his own daughter had died of cancer [Tim Ashley].

These were his last performances with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and it is his last previously unreleased recording of manywith this orchestra; was it held back purposely, and with his knowedge so as to become a memorial release? (Are we entering a new phase, when instead of stone in a cemetery, people will prepare instead a living memorial in recordings and on the internet? (I am aware of a splendid pianist, who retained full powers whilst approaching the end of her days, and has made a memorial DVD for release afterwards.)

It is a fine, deeply moving performance, superbly recorded in Prague on 5/6 April 2010 and it can be recommended unreservedly. There are several others available, but no-one hearing this account will be inclined to venture on comparisons.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Dvorak - Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras

SIGNUM SIGCD183 [Live from Royal Festival Hall, London, October 2008]

Sir Charles Mackerras (b. November 1925; d. 14 July 2010) has been a part of my life for half a century and more - we were of an age - and his death (he had continued working flat out despite illness) is a great sadness.

This warmly received disc is perhaps the last of the newish ones waiting for our belated review [q.v. Mozart Symphonies 29-36 - "Another offering from Sir Charles' Indian Summer; superb, vital accounts of five more important Mozart symphonies; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra doesn't play period instruments or eschew vibrato, but the hard sticks on the timpani give it an authentic flavour from a long-renowned Mozart specialist." -- Peter Grahame Woolf, Musical Pointers [2/2010].

Other recordings will, no doubt, be reissued to reflect the exceptional range of Sir Charles' wide and deep interests. Meanwhile, these great live performances of two favourite Dvorak symphonies are good reminders of Mackerras' lifelong affiliation to Czech music; excellent accounts of them both, the one his most sombre, the Eighth the most friendly and songful

A few personal recollections. The first - which may surprise some readers - was of a rather gauche young conductor who looked far from comfortable "playing the audience" to participate in Britten's "Let's make an opera"; the English Opera Group had been seeking a young conductor to tour it to tour it. No sign of future greatness then.

Of his later preoccupations, I recall the excitement - and some controversy - when he introduced appogiaturas into the sacred texts of arias in Figaro (1965). It is easy to forget that in the 1960s he was at the forefront of the period instrument movement. And around the same time, pioneering all the Janáček operas in UK, one by one...

From the late sixties I had opportunities to meet Sir Charles occasionally; first, an enduring memory of his kind consideration supporting my young son Simon as solo treble whilst recording the epoch making Archiv LP of Purcell's Ode 1692 - helping him through one session with a cold; a soprano deputy waiting in the wings to take over... At several subsequent genial meetings he enquired after Simon's subsequent career; he was interested that he had reappeared as a bassist, and once told me about his own appearance as violist - playing just one note in Purcell's Fantasia on one note !

Peter Grahame Woolf