Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Ripening. Tale of a Winter’s Evening
Kirill Petrenko, cond; Berlin Comic Op O
cpo 777 364 (53:10)
is rightly regarded as one of his finest works, a lengthy tone poem of high quality. It has received few recordings, however. This is in large part due to its mix of complexity and technical demands. While listeners can easily enjoy the brilliant orchestral color and thematic appeal of the work without considering the intricacies that
lie beneath its surface, the score remains a daunting one to analyze, conduct, and perform. It is therefore curious that the two best currently available readings feature orchestras of less than the front rank.
The Slovak RSO is the inferior ensemble—competent but sometimes rough in execution, usually incapable of the kind of cross-sectional blend so important to Suk’s conception. By contrast, the Orchestra of the Berlin Comic Opera (despite its name, an ensemble dating back to 1947, with a lineup of past conductors that include Klemperer, Neumann, Masur, Kondrashin, Kempe, and Barshai, among others) is able to surmount all the difficulties of the work with seeming ease. Like many second-string German orchestras, it tends to lack personality rather than technical prowess. The exception is provided by the strings, with a richness in
’s fervent third movement and a sharpness of attack in the fugal fifth that brings a level of distinction the winds and brass don’t match.
The conducting palm would have to be divided equally between the two recordings. Andrew Mogrelia is the more exuberant of the two, Kirill Petrenko the more expansive. Mogrelia makes the most of his characterful Slovak musicians in the high-spirited second movement, said by musicologist and composer Karel Šrom to represent youth. Petrenko is especially atmospheric in the final movement, a summing up of all that has gone before, but he’s also more effective at limning the important architectural points throughout the work. It comes together as a whole more satisfactorily under his baton.
If I haven’t thus far mentioned Libor Pešek’s recording of
with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on EMI Classics, it is because I find little feeling for the music in his cautious and carefully controlled manner, while Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic are off-stride in their under-energized version, part of an otherwise admirable Suk collection on Supraphon 3864. The best performance of the work, alas, is also the worst sounding recording: a 1949 reading by Václav Talich with the Czech Philharmonic that has been issued and withdrawn numerous times. It understandably does not do full justice to the beauty of the music, but you can really tell that Talich and his Czech musicians find it transcendentally beautiful.
As it happens, both Petrenko and Mogrelia also include the seldom-heard
Tales of a Winter’s Evening
, a non-programmatic tone poem based on general impressions drawn from
The Winter’s Tale
by Suk’s favorite author, Shakespeare. Though the orchestration was revised around 1920, the work as a whole dates back to 1894, where it exemplifies the composer’s early style of singing lyricism and the direct folk influence of his Czech homeland. Here, the Berliners supply a more polished performance, but the Slovak RSO offers a more enthusiastic one. I prefer the latter in a relatively uncomplicated piece like this, and Mogrelia delivers on both energy and detail.
The liner notes include a lengthy, fascinating, and digressive essay on the music by cpo regular Eckhardt van den Hoogen. Engineering is effectively spacious, if not ideal in terms of clarity. Given my druthers, it would be a modern recording by Talich or a rejuvenated Neumann that I would be reviewing in this pair of works, but lacking that, I cast my vote for Petrenko. He comes the closest to Talich in realizing the majestic humanity of
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Tale of a Winter's Evening, Op. 9 by Josef Suk
Berlin Comic Opera Orchestra
Written: 1894/1926; Prague, Czech Republ
Length: 14 Minutes 50 Secs.
Notes: Audio Engineer: Axel Sommerfeld.
Audio Producer: Stefan Lang.
Ripening, Op. 34 by Josef Suk
Berlin Comic Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1912-1917; Prague, Czech Republ
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