SUK Asrael Symphony BRITTEN Sinfonia de Requiem
A cursory glance at the timings might suggest that Ji∑í Bělohlávek’s wonderfully unforced view of Suk’s towering Asrael has changed little in the 20 years since the appearance of his unfailingly eloquent Chandos recording with the Czech PO. In reality, this new performance from the 2008 Prague Spring Festival is a very different beast, more spontaneous and involving, with tension-levels agreeably indicative of its live provenance. It also finds the BBC SO at the top of its game and wholly attuned to the idiom – no surprise to those who investigated this same team’s stunning version of Suk’s Ripening (Chandos, 11/10).
If Kubelík’s devastatingly communicative Bavarian Radio SO account on Panton must remain the yardstick, there’s absolutely no denying the impressive rigour and shrewdly calibrated dynamic control of Bělohlávek’s meticulously prepared conception. Just listen to the way he handles that jaw-dropping culmination to the first movement, where the fff apex hits home with a seismic power to cap even those pounding bass-drum blows in the paragraph leading up to it. How tenderly, too, Bělohlávek shapes the heart-rending central portion of the third movement – and what ravishing tone he coaxes from the BBC SO strings in these glorious pages. All told, a memorably nourishing and, by the close, profoundly moving display, which is rightly afforded an enthusiastic reception.
The comparably cogent, selfless and deeply felt performance of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem (on a separate disc) likewise leaves an enduring impact but best think of it as a bonus to the main event. Prospective purchasers can also rest assured that the Czech Radio engineers have secured admirably truthful sound and balance throughout. No doubt about it, this is a release that reflects enormous credit on all concerned.