3

The total number of performances of compositions by
Josef Suk: 185

The three most performed works

34 times Serenade for Strings in E flat major
26 times Fantasy in G minor for Violin and Orchestra
24x Symphony No.2 in C minor Asrael

 

The statistical data compiled, published and shared by Alexander Goldscheider © Citing from his book Jiří Bělohlávek: A Life in Pictures. [ 1 ]

Together with Bohuslav Martinů, Josef Suk was a composer who Bělohlávek spent his whole career promoting successfully among international orchestras. Especially during the years when he was the guest and chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Josef Suk was one of the Czech composers Bělohlávek “discovered” for (not only) the English audience.

Suk’s works had been part of Bělohlávek’s repertoire since his school days. As a cellist, he explored Suk’s chamber repertoire – in March 1964 he even performed Suk’s Ballade and Serenade for Cello and Piano with his wife-to-be Anna Fejérová in a concert in Košice, and later as a conducting student he proceeded to work on larger orchestral works.

Suk was on the programme already at concerts with the State Philharmonic Orchestra in Brno and with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. First recordings were made at this time, too. In 1979 and 1980, Bělohlávek recorded Suk’s Fairy Tale and Fantastic Scherzo at the Rudolfinum. The violin solos were played by the composer’s grandson Josef Suk. Both compositions were released on a Supraphon LP in 1981.

Bělohlávek together with the Czech Philharmonic contributed substantially to the Suk discography. In the early 1990s during his collaboration with the British Chandos label, he recorded the Fantastic Scherzo that was released on a CD together with works by Martinů and Janáček. In 1992, he recorded Suk’s Asrael and, on another disc, The Fairy Tale and Serenade for Strings. He received the 1993 Annual Award of the Czech Music Fund for his Asrael recording.

During Bělohlávek’s second term with the Czech Philharmonic (2012–2017), Josef Suk’s works were included in the recording dramaturgy of the orchestra, too. In 2014, he recorded the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in G minor, with Josef Špaček, the then concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic. It was released on a Supraphon CD in 2015, together with two more concertos – Janáček’s Wandering Soul and Dvořák’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor. Bělohlávek was very happy that he released this CD and that Josef Špaček took Josef Suk’s legacy on: “I think that Suk’sFantasy is truly a beautiful work and I am very happy that Josef carries Suk’s legacy on and turns it into a listener’s delight.” [ 2 ]

Bělohlávek’s last recordings of Suk’s work was Asrael, recorded live at subscription concerts at the Rudolfinum in October 2014, and Fairy Tale, recorded a year later at the same venue. Both pieces were released on CD and digitally by the Decca label in 2019.

If anything, Bělohlávek sounds even more fired-up [than on his previous recordings of these works]…His natural warmth and charm characteristically enchants the central scherzo’s prismatic textural shifts, while elsewhere he demonstrates a greater willingness to probe the dark side of this endlessly fascinating score…[Pohádka’s] radiant allure and pictorial splendour is brought stunningly to life by Bělohlávek.

— BBC Music Magazine 2019

These give us Bělohlávek's most recent, and probably most mature takes on the music of Josef Suk, overshadowed to some extent in the west by Antonín Dvořàk and later by Leoš Janáček. As Bělohlávek demonstrates, Suk's music is distinctive and original, with great character.

— Anna Ozorio / Classical-iconoclast 2019 [ 3 ]

Bělohlávek had plans to record other important works by Suk with the Czech Philharmonic, such as Ripening. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the end. However, Bělohlávek’s student Jakub Hrůša took over his endeavour to propagate Suk’s work and performs it abroad as the chief conductor of Bamberger Symphoniker. Moreover, as the principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he intends to record all of Suk’s orchestral works.

In 1996, Bělohlávek recorded Suk’s Serenade for Strings with the PKF – Prague Philharmonia for the Supraphon label. It appeared on the Dvořák – Suk: Serenades album.

When working with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the work of Josef Suk was Bělohlávek’s focus second only to Bohuslav Martinů as far as presentation of Czech music was concerned. “We began by the Serenade for Strings and the Fairy Tale, and then we went on to present Suk’s larger scores. It started with Asrael, which was included in the recording projects of the Chandos company, later we did Ripening and Symphony in E major and most recently Praga and A Summer’s Tale. Suk had been something completely new and unknown to them. [ 4 ]

Bělohlávek recorded the above-mentioned Ripening and Symphony in E major with the BBC SO and New London Chamber Choir (2010) for the Chandos label and in 2011 they recorded Praga and A Summer’s Tale (released on CD in 2012). This recording received the prestigious Gramophone Award in the orchestral category.

Suk has no greater champion today than his Czech compatriot, Jiří Bělohlávek. (…) From the super-hushed atmospheric opening, shimmering strings representing the mist-shrouded Vltava river, through the swashbuckling Hussite horn calls and vivid battles scenes, to the triumphant conclusion with spine-tingling organ, Bělohlávek inspires a performance of total commitment. The orchestral sound may not be distinctively Czech, but the vibrant playing is full of character and brings the work alive brilliantly, compensating for a lack of musical development in its most programmatic passages.

— Graham Rogers / BBC 2012 [ 5 ]

It seems to me that the trick with The Ripening is to let it unfold naturally, allowing each billowing episode its due, guiding and nurturing rather than impeding the flow in any way. Belohlávek does just that and the BBC Symphony respond not only with some superb playing but with a range of dynamics that fully tests the skills of the Chandos team (Brian Pidgeon was the recording producer), including a beautifully balanced chorus towards the end of the work. (…) Again, Bělohlávek directs an excellent performance, idiomatic as well as atmospheric and especially effective in the two middle movements, which possibly contain the score’s best music. (Symfonie E dur)

— Rob Cowan / Gramophone 2017 [ 6 ]

In 2008, Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave two concerts at the Prague Spring Festival, the first of which was opened by Suk’s Asrael. This concert was recorded live and released on CD on the Supraphon label in 2012 together with Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem.

This release (co-produced by Supraphon and the BBC Symphony Orchestra) is very good news. Jiří Bělohlávek and the orchestra gave such an exquisite performance that even when “conserved” it has an amazing atmosphere. It is tragic music and at the same time “comforting music”; Suk’s pained symphony has a wonderful flow and suspense. Jiří Bělohlávek can build Suk’s large surfaces without loosening them into timeless sound. What was written immediately after the concert still holds true: “we have not heard the piece rendered so well for a long time and we will not hear it so for a long time again” (Petr Veber). One can relive the wonderful experience thanks to this recording.

— Vlasta Reittererová / Harmonie 2013 [ 7 ]

Suk’s work was also heard at the Last Night of the Proms in 2012. The BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra performed the orchestral-vocal piece celebrating the Sokol movement, the gymnastics organization, entitled V nový život (Towards a New Life). The inclusion of the composition had both sport connotations - the Olympics were held in London that year - and personal connotations - Jiří Bělohlávek was about to enter a new professional stage as the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.

3.6

next chapter

  • 1.GOLDSCHEIDER, Alexander: Jiří Bělohlávek: A Life in Pictures. 2017. Kniha na více než 600 fotografiích a 160 stránkách dokumentuje celoživotní dráhu Jiřího Bělohlávka s použitím tisíců unikátních statistických údajů. Available online 
  • 2.Česká filharmonie po šesti letech nahrávala pro české vydavatelství. iDnes.cz 2015, 8. 4. Available online
  • 3.OZORIO, Anne: Monumental Josef Suk : Asrael Symphony, Jiří Bělohlávek, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Classical-iconoclast 2019, 13. 6. Available online
  • 4.VEBER, Petr; STEHLÍK, Luboš: Jiří Bělohlávek – perfekcionista, pro něhož není dokonalost cílem, ale začátkem. Harmonie 2012, 9. 10. Available online
  • 5.ROGERS, Graham: Bělohlávek and the BBC SO make a powerful case for this intense work. BBC 2012. Available online
  • 6.COWAN, Rob: Josef Suk – Ripening; Symphony in E (Jiří Bělohlávek). Gramophone.co.uk 2017, 20. 10. Available online
  • 7.REITTEREROVÁ, Vlasta: BBC Symphony Orchestra a Jiří Bělohlávek – Josef Suk: Asrael, Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem. Harmonie 2013, 24. 7. Available online
1.

GOLDSCHEIDER, Alexander: Jiří Bělohlávek: A Life in Pictures. 2017. Kniha na více než 600 fotografiích a 160 stránkách dokumentuje celoživotní dráhu Jiřího Bělohlávka s použitím tisíců unikátních statistických údajů. Available online 

2.

Česká filharmonie po šesti letech nahrávala pro české vydavatelství. iDnes.cz 2015, 8. 4. Available online

3.

OZORIO, Anne: Monumental Josef Suk : Asrael Symphony, Jiří Bělohlávek, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Classical-iconoclast 2019, 13. 6. Available online

4.

VEBER, Petr; STEHLÍK, Luboš: Jiří Bělohlávek – perfekcionista, pro něhož není dokonalost cílem, ale začátkem. Harmonie 2012, 9. 10. Available online

5.

ROGERS, Graham: Bělohlávek and the BBC SO make a powerful case for this intense work. BBC 2012. Available online

6.

COWAN, Rob: Josef Suk – Ripening; Symphony in E (Jiří Bělohlávek). Gramophone.co.uk 2017, 20. 10. Available online

7.

REITTEREROVÁ, Vlasta: BBC Symphony Orchestra a Jiří Bělohlávek – Josef Suk: Asrael, Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem. Harmonie 2013, 24. 7. Available online