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Josef Suk: Asrael / Ashkenazy, Helsinki Philharmonic

Release Date: 01/27/2009 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1132   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Josef Suk
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

Everyone should hear Asrael – and Ashkenazy makes a persuasive case

I think reviewer David Gutman is right to hear something of Mahler in Suk’s rarely recorded Asrael. Certainly Ashkenazy and the Helsinki Phil find a direct and gripping emotional line here, but there’s also something distinctly otherwordly underlining the whole (a touch of the Prokofievs?). Anyway, this recording is a powerful declamation of Suk’s own voice. But Mahlerians will love it!

-- Gramophone [5/2009]

Read more This is the first totally non-Czech recording of Suk's tragic masterpiece, and it's brilliant. In case you don't already know the story, Suk wrote this harrowing, five-movement symphony to expiate the pain and grief of the double loss of his wife and father-in-law (who happened to be Dvorák), both of whom died within about a year of each other. Asrael is the angel of death, and the music refers directly to Dvorák's Requiem (in its second movement) and seemingly to Slavonic church music as well. While often dark in tone, it is by no means lacking in color or contrast. The third movement reveals Suk as a master of the creepy scherzo to rival the Mahler of the Seventh Symphony, while the transfigured major-key ending is anything but facile, and achieves precisely the catharsis that Suk intended.

This performance is magnificent. Asrael has been recorded before, and very well, by most major Czech conductors, including Talich, Neumann, Pesek, Kubelik, and (less successfully) Belohlávek. Ashkenazy's performance here is as fine as any of them; indeed, he brings more sheer excitement to the finale than any other conductor on disc, and the playing of the Helsinki Philharmonic gives nothing away to the Czechs in the Talich and Neumann versions. Ashkenazy also enjoys far and away the best engineering: the coda of the first movement, with its hammering bass drum, wailing violins, and menacing brass, never has sounded more harrowing. And it's important that this music gets played by non-Czech forces in order to enter the general repertoire. It certainly deserves to be much more than a merely local specialty. If you love the symphonies of, say, Mahler or Tchaikovsky, then you really must hear Asrael.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Symphony in C minor, Op. 27 "Asrael" by Josef Suk
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905-1906; Prague 

Featured Sound Samples

Symphony in C minor "Asrael": I. Andante sostenuto

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