New Classical Tracks: Enchanting Works by Josef Suk

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
April 19, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. —

As they celebrate their 75th anniversary season, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra continues to flourish, which is reason enough to celebrate in the current economic climate. Their strong artistic and financial leadership comes from their music director of the past 12 years, JoAnn Falletta, who is also marking her 20th anniversary as music director of the Virginia Symphony this season. Falletta has carried on the legacy of the orchestra's predecessors by nurturing the ensemble's warm sound, and its adventurous approach to contemporary music. The orchestra's 75th anniversary season includes another world premiere this spring, (Daron Hagen's Songbook Concerto for violin and orchestra), and the release of this new recording featuring orchestral works from the Czech composer Joseph Suk.

Joseph Suk lived from 1874 to 1935. He was second violinist of the Czech Quartet for 41 years, and also professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory. When Suk was a student there, he studied under Antonin Dvorak, eventually becoming part of the family, when he married the Dvoraks' oldest daughter. Suk's compositions were influenced by Dvorak and Brahms early on, but in the end, he developed his own symphonic style. The Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 24, was written at the turn of the 20th century, a time when orchestral tone poems were gaining in popularity throughout Europe. These tone poems, such as Smetana's, "My Homeland," and Elgar's "Enigma" Variations," were intriguing because they followed a progression of moods rather than any particular storyline. The solo violin enters following a bold orchestral opening in Suk's Fantasy in G minor. A charming pastoral atmosphere develops midway through the Fantasy as violinist Michael Ludwig's solo line dances in and around the fluttering woodwinds. The soloist paints a dramatic tale over the rich orchestral terrain provided by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Like his mentor Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk loved fairy tales. His orchestral suite titled, "Pohadka," or "Fairy Tale," features incidental music he wrote in 1898 for a theatre piece by Czech poet Julius Zeyer. It's an old legend from Eastern Europe about a dashing young prince, Raduz, who tries to win the hand of princess Mahulena from a rival mountain kingdom. Mahulena's mother is an evil sorceress who demands certain rites of passage before the two can be united. She puts a curse on the couple, forcing Raduz to lose his memory when she turns her daughter into a poplar tree. The first movement paints a lush orchestral portrait of the two lovers, with the solo violin singing a tender love song. The second movement is my favorite. "The Game of Swans and Peacocks" is a lively folk dance much like the Slavonic Dances of Dvorak. In the final movement true love breaks the curse of the evil sorceress, and the young lovers are together at last. The violin's love aria returns, bringing this fairy tale to a quiet close. .

"Scherzo" means "joke" in Italian. Josef Suk's Scherzo in G minor is a series of impish vignettes, featuring each section of the orchestra in a different character role. The woodwinds become forest gnomes, while the middle strings and cellos make their imprint with a memorable Czech melody. What the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra offers in this crisp performance is fifteen minutes of pure enchantment..

In celebration of the Orchestra's anniversary season JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic continue to focus on eclectic repertoire in the concert hall and in the recording studio. In fact, recording has become an integral part of Falletta's tenure. She believes it changes the way musicians think about their art. They're more intent about how they approach their music--which is clear on this new release of rarely heard orchestra works by the Czech master Josef Suk..

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