C0246. KAREL ANCERL Cond. SWR Radio S.O.: 'Asrael' Symphony (Josef Suk); Serenata (Isa Krejci). (Germany) SWR 19055, recorded 1967, Baden-Baden. [Brilliant recordings of two magnificent lesser-known works] Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 747313905584
“Suk’s tragic prompt was twofold, initially the death of his father-in-law Dvorák and then, shortly afterwards, of his wife Otilka, at the age of 27. Josef Suk’s requiem ‘Symphony for Large Orchestra’, an epic work named after Asrael, the Angel of Death according to Islam, Sikhism and some Hebrew lore deals with ‘the struggle of life and death’, ‘loss’, Otilka herself and the futility of life, before hard-won acceptance marks a tentative but definite return to some semblance of normality. A bracing centrally placed scherzo has at its heart some of the most achingly beautiful music in the whole of Suk’s output.”
- Rob Cowan, GRAMOPHONE, June, 2011
“’In the Czech generation of composers after Antonín Dvořák, Josef Suk was probably the one who travelled the furthest in terms of style, and certainly, next to Leos Janácek, the one who retains the highest claim to international standing’, wrote the musicologist Ludwig Finscher in the classic encyclopaedia DIE MUSIK IN GESCHICHTE UND GEGENWART. The music of Suk - violinist, composer and one of the most important Bohemian symphonists - is still relatively rarely heard in Western European concert halls, a situation that should definitely change.
In 1891, Josef Suk, having started out as a violinist, became a master student of the world-famous Dvorak. He was regularly invited to the composer’s country house, where he fell in love with his teacher’s daughter and married her. The ‘Asrael’ Symphony was written after Dvorak’s death, and the death soon afterwards of Suk’s own wife gave the work a new direction - it is dedicated to both of them. The title of ‘Asrael’ refers to the angel of death from Islamic-Persian mythology: he is a mysterious companion of the human soul from this world to the next. Suk developed his own musical language in which the solo violin is often involved (as here in the gentle central section of the Andante): The violin was indeed his instrument, and until 1933 he played in the Bohemian String Quartet. With the ‘Asrael’ symphony he consciously took up the tradition of a ‘fate symphony’ - associated since Beethoven’s Fifth with the key of c minor moving at the end into radiant C major. Ever since its premiere on February 3, 1907 at the Prague National Theatre, ‘Asrael’ has ranked as Suk’s most important symphonic work - and as a visionary glimpse into the future.”
“Having studied conducting and composition at the Prague Conservatory, Karel Ancerl was Hermann Scherchen's assistant conductor in a 1931 production of Alois Hába's opera THE MOTHER. Ancerl later studied conducting with Scherchen and worked with Talich. In 1933, Ancerl started conducting for Prague Radio, also establishing himself as a stage conductor. When Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, Ancerl was dismissed from his job and interned in concentration camps. While Ancerl’s initiative was the first of its kind in Terezín, by 1944 there were an additional four orchestras, and several smaller ensembles active in the camp. Ancerl’s string orchestra flourished until October of 1944, when Ancerl and the majority of the musicians he conducted were deported to Auschwitz.
The only member of his family to survive concentration camps, Ancerl resumed his career in 1945, conducting the Prague Opera from 1945 to 1948. After directing the Czech Radio Orchestra from 1947 to 1950, Ancerl took over the Czech Philharmonic. During his time with the Czech Philharmonic, Ancerl's career flourished as he took his orchestra all over the world, receiving critical praise for his refined performances of the standard classical repertoire. In addition, he conducted many prominent European orchestras, also serving as guest conductor with the London Philharmonic in 1967. In 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Ancerl left the country, eventually settling in Toronto. The following year, he became music director of the Toronto Symphony and his impact there was very significant: he expanded the orchestra's repertoire, performing works by important Czech composers, including Smetana, Martinu, and Suk. In addition, Ancerl's impressive recording legacy includes performances of music by Mozart, Brahms, Mahler, and Stravinsky. Ancerl died in 1973.”
- Zoran Minderovic, allmusic.com