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Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, July 2011

Normally I would automatically prefer the Czech recordings of all three works by the likes of Belohlavek, Ancerl, Talich, and Pesek. Those are better but not by much; and when one considers the bargain price for Naxos discs, I think this one is good enough to recommend. JoAnn Falletta does a superb job of leadership, and Michael Ludwig is a creditable soloist. The notes are satisfactory.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Rob Cowan
Gramophone, June 2011

Falletta’s full-textured, warm-hearted approach delivers on many levels

Josef Suk’s dramatic, 23-minute Fantasy in G minor opens like Zampa in a bad mood (remember Hérold’s popular overture?), but the “storm and stress” element soon gives way to a wealth of lyricism and writing that combines memorable themes with imaginative orchestration, nicely focused here by JoAnn Falletta and her players (note the prominent Buffalo horns at 1′23″). It’s a cracker of a piece, with a particularly lovely theme at around 5′44″ that cues a skipping, lightly syncopated variation, and a mass of attractive incident around and beyond.

Recordings of the Fantasy aren’t exactly thick on the ground. A thrilling historical live version with Carl Flesch was released some years ago by Symposium; more recently, the alert and intelligent Pamela Frank with the Czech Philharmonic under Sir Charles Mackerras prepared a fine version (Decca); while a few years earlier, Josef Suk (the composer’s grandson) set down his compelling and memorably idiomatic interpretation with the Czech Philharmonic under Václav Neumann (Supraphon), crisper in outline and more voluptuous than this warm-blooded new version by Michael Ludwig and the Buffalo Philharmonic which delivers everything needed excepting, perhaps, a clinching degree of spontaneity. The music that eventually emerged as Fairy Tale was composed some five years before the Fantasy, when Suk was still in his mid-twenties, and has in recent years established itself as one of the composer’s most popular works. The first two movements are especially attractive and again JoAnn Falletta’s full-textured, warm-hearted approach is a fair swap for the characteristic bite that Libor Pešek (Supraphon) and Jiří Bělohlávek (Chandos) achieve with the Czech Philharmonic. Likewise, Sir Charles Mackerras and the Czech Phil (Decca) with the Fantastic Scherzo, a sort of “update” on Dvořák’s Scherzo capriccioso and musically just as attractive. Naxos’s recordings achieve a warmth and amplitude that suit the performances.

Lee Passarella
Audiophile Audition, May 2011

It was Josef Suk’s misfortune to assume the mantle of his teacher and father-in-law Antonín Dvořák just about the time another Czech composer with a unique musical voice was establishing himself. Twenty years Suk’s senior, Leoš Janáček often seems twenty years more advanced in style, and his operas, orchestral music, and instrumental music established him as the true successor to the tradition of Smetana and Dvořák. Now, thanks to recordings, Suk is getting the due he deserves as a late-Romantic composer whose finest works can stand comparison with Mahler’s and Strauss’s.

That’s certainly true of Suk’s greatest piece, the Asrael Symphony (1906), one of the most moving compositions of the twentieth century. The painful, near-grotesque tragedy of the work reminds me of the Mahler Sixth; if you don’t know this symphony, you’re in luck: there are no fewer than four well-received recordings available, including two on SACD!

Forgive me for digressing before I even start to talk about what should be the subject of this review, Suk’s Opp. 16, 24, and 25. However, I was reminded as I listened to the composer’s strangely appealing Fantastické scherzo of just how individual a composer Suk is. Here is Suk special sound-world, immediately familiar if you know the Asrael Symphony. It’s there, too, in the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, of the same year, 1903, though with a less sinister tread than at points in Scherzo, where a sudden dark mood seems to anticipate the symphony Suk couldn’t have known he would write following the death of his young wife and revered father-in-law.

As the notes to this recording suggest, the Fantasy is in the tradition of the late-Romantic works for violin and orchestra by the likes of Wienawski that develop some unspecified program or other in the fashion of a tone poem. The violin soloist often seems to be telling the story; at others, the violin seems to be dancing to the bright orchestral accompaniment. The Fantasy is a work of fresh inspiration and non-stop virtuosity that, I hope, violinists and orchestras will take up in the concert hall with deserved regularity.

Fairy Tale is more forthright in its storytelling, being based on incidental music to the play Radúz a Mahulena, composed in 1898. The story involves the love of Prince Radúz for Princess Mahulena and the series of ordeals the pair must undergo at the hands of a sorceress queen before they can live happily ever after. The work begins with a bardic introduction, complete with extended passages for the harps and solo violin, in a narrative posture à la Scheherazade. The folk dances of the following Intermezzo sound as if they’ve come right off the pages of The Bartered Bride. Yet another Intermezzo brings somberness in the form of funeral music for the dead King, a sober reminder of the hardships the lovers must endure. The last section begins with grand dramatic music representing the tragic separation of the lovers, who are finally united in a rhapsodic finale. It’s lovely music that finds Suk working more closely in the tradition of Dvořák and Smetana than in the more “modern” music of Opp. 24 and 25.

This disc offers a superb introduction to the color and variety of Suk’s orchestral music, in performances that don’t at all make me pine for the Czech musicians who once seemed to own this music. Michael Ludwig is a powerful virtuoso presence in the Fantasy, and he’s accompanied expertly by Falletta and her orchestra. The other works are all theirs, and they truly shine. The Buffalo musicians seem to be thoroughly inside this music, and much of the credit must go to JoAnn Falletta, who brings out all the splendor and verve of Suk’s writing for orchestra. Add to this just about the best recording I’ve heard from Buffalo—big and bright, with a very convincing sense of the hall. Naxos’ price may be budget, but everything else about this disc bespeaks aural luxury. I highly recommend it.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, May 2011

JoAnn Falletta and Michael Ludwig, conductor and concert-master respectively of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, combined for an outstanding Naxos CD of the Dohnányi Violin Concertos a few years ago, and now they’re back with the music of Czech composer Josef Suk (1874–1935), this time with their own orchestra (Naxos 8.572323). Suk studied with Dvořák, who later became his father-in-law, and continued the Czech school of Dvořák and Smetana while managing to accommodate the influences of his contemporaries Mahler, Richard Strauss and Debussy. Ludwig is outstanding in the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in G minor, and also takes the solo line in the opening movement of the four-movement suite Pohadka (Fairy Tale), compiled from incidental music Suk wrote for a theatrical work in 1898. The orchestral Fantastic Scherzo in G minor rounds out another immensely satisfying CD from this terrific team.

Julie Amacher
Minnesota Public Radio, April 2011

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 Antonín Dvořák, eventually becoming part of the family, when he married the Dvořáks’ oldest daughter. Suk’s compositions were influenced by Dvořák 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 Antonín Dvořák, 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 Dvořák. 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., April 2011

Because music inspires the mind and heart without actually having any inherent significance—Leonard Bernstein famously commented that music does not mean anything—it is a medium uniquely well adapted to fantasizing. And it has inspired many, many fantasy-oriented works, both better-known and less-known. The ones by Josef Suk on a new Naxos CD do not deserve their comparative obscurity: they are eloquent, tuneful, emotionally evocative and thoroughly enjoyable to hear. The Fantasy in G minor is simply an orchestral tone poem of considerable beauty, not telling any particular story but neatly stirring together the traditional elements of fantasy: romance, boldness, sylvan scenes and ultimate triumph. It is well orchestrated and very well played by the Buffalo Philharmonic under JoAnn Falletta, who has been doing an outstanding job of reviving less-known works of the Romantic era. The inclusion of a solo violin will remind listeners of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and Michael Ludwig’s playing is both virtuosic and appropriately emotive. Pohádka (Fairy Tale) is a gem, too—and also somewhat reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov. It is an orchestral suite of music that Suk (1874–1935) wrote for a stage play that chronicles the legendary and entirely typical story of a prince seeking the hand of a princess and forced to endure many trials before finally winning her. The suite’s four movements include love music and passages of beauty, bravery and a stylized representation of death—symbolized by swans in the stage play and expressed by Suk in terms somewhat akin to Tchaikovsky’s in Swan Lake. Also on this CD is the very effective Fantastické scherzo, which seems to depict everything from mischievous woodland creatures to an idyllic setting where even the elves and gnomes can relax for a while. This disc is a very fine rediscovery indeed.

David Hurwitz, April 2011

The greatest Czech artists have recorded this music, but they yield surprisingly little to JoAnn Falletta and her Buffalo players. If perhaps the winds aren’t quite as characterful as their Bohemian colleagues, Falletta ensures that the performances have just as much energy and rhythmic snap. In Fairy Tale, a gorgeously romantic work as substantial as a symphony, The Game of Swans and Peacocks has all the bounce of a Slavonic Dance, while the large outer movements are beautifully shaped and exquisitely played.

Just as Fairy Tale might pass for a four-movement symphony, so the Fantasy is every bit as serious and cogent as a major violin concerto (though it has only one long movement). It’s as big as, say, the Bruch G minor, perfectly proportioned, and like all of the music on this disc its neglect is simply incomprehensible. Michael Ludwig remains an impressive soloist; he has a big enough tone to do the lyrical moments justice, and plenty of dexterity in the flashy bits. He and Falletta make the ending memorably exciting.

The Fantastic Scherzo is a masterpiece of atmosphere and melody—like so much of Suk’s music, the bitter-sweetness of its main ideas will stay with you for days. It’s quite wonderfully played here: crisp and lively. Really, Falletta’s performance is as good as any, and extremely well recorded too. It’s so important that this wonderful music gets played by non-native musicians; it’s the only way that it stands a chance of entering the standard repertoire, where it so obviously ought to be. Projects like this deserve your support, and will reward your time and attention many times over. Strongly recommended.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, April 2011

The performance of the Fantasy, which opens the album, is good…JoAnn Falletta’s performance is…fantastic and the album overall as enjoyable as one might demand. The mp3 transfer is good.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, March 2011

You have to give conductor JoAnn Falletta and her Buffalo Philharmonic credit for tackling works that are somewhat out of the mainstream, music from the likes of John Corigliano, John Duffy, Kenneth Fuchs, Daron Hagen, Jack Gallagher, John Powell, and Marcel Tyberg, as well as more familiar folks like Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, and Ottorino Respighi. On the present disc she undertakes the music of violinist, teacher, and composer Josef Suk (1874–1935), whom more people probably know in his native Czechoslovakia than know him in America. Indeed, people may even know him better as Antonin Dvořák’s son-in-law than as a musician and composer of tone poems. He was first a student of Dvořák and then married Dvořák’s daughter. But both his mentor and his wife died in the years 1904–05, devastating the man. The music we get on this disc, however, comes from earlier and happier times.

The program opens with the Fantasy in G Minor, Op. 24, which Suk wrote in 1903. It begins with a healthy blast of sound and then moves into kind of Bohemian Gypsy territory, where we hear the influences of Dvořák and something of Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. I’m not sure what this twenty-three-minute piece represents, but with violinist Michael Ludwig lending it a delicate tone and Ms. Falletta providing a sympathetic and often robust accompaniment, it is surely captivating in its varying moods, from sentimental to exuberant.

The centerpiece of the album is Suk’s Pohadka (Fairy Tale), Op. 16, from 1898, a suite of four movements drawn from music he wrote for a theater piece. Much like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with flashes of Smetana’s Ma Vlast, the Fairy Tale describes events in the lives of two lovers, a Prince and Princess from rival kingdoms and their conflict with an evil sorceress. The section titles are self-explanatory: “About the constant love of Raduz and Mahutena and their trials”; “The game of swans and peacocks”; “Funeral Music”; and “Runa’s curse and how it was overcome by true love.”

Like his Russian and Czech counterparts, Suk provides plenty of color in this music, and like Richard Strauss and other tone poets of his day, he conjures up vivid images in his compositions. Falletta and her players seem almost joyous in their desire to make these stories come to life, with Ludwig’s violin always sweet and light. No, Suk’s music does not convey the same exquisite beauty or elicit the same excitement as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade does, and Suk’s suite gets more than a little bombastic toward the end, but that doesn’t stop the performers from giving it their best shot.

The program ends with the Fantasticke Scherzo in G Minor, Op. 25, from 1903, another evocative work from Suk. It was for me, unfamiliar with this music, the highlight of the disc, reminding me in part of Mendelssohn and Bax. Lilting, airy, flamboyant, and a little overwrought, it is nevertheless mostly delightful in its rustic, bucolic way. As always, Ms. Falletta and her forces play it with a zesty charm.

Is any of this great or memorable music? No, Josef Suk has not quite made it into the pantheon of truly important classical composers, and his works are not (yet) a part of the basic orchestral repertoire. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t seek him out and appreciate his music for the moment. It is highly accessible and easily enjoyed, especially when it’s as well played as it is here.

Naxos made the recording at Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, in May of 2010, capturing a big, splashy sound that does justice to the music. There is an ample dynamic range, strong impact, good clarity, and a fine sense of air around the instruments to satisfy most discerning listeners. Then, too, a fairly wide stereo spread and a realistic illusion of stage depth add to the recording’s verisimilitude. Highs ring out with sparkle, clearly and effortlessly, and the bass makes a statement when necessary. The violin featured so prominently throughout the selections never overpowers the orchestra or vice versa, the audio engineers nicely balancing it against the other instruments. This is entertaining, largely playful light music served up in equally pleasing sound.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, March 2011

The lyrical, lightly romantic music of Josef Suk (rhymes with “duke”) impressed Brahms and Dvořák (whose daughter Suk married), and it is a joy that the BPO has dusted it off and shined it up for its newest Naxos disc, recorded at Kleinhans Music Hall last spring. I’m going to skip the Czech inside-baseball talk and say what I love about this music. I love how in “Fairy Tale” Suk conjures up not only Tchaikovsky’s Siegfried (from “Swan Lake”) but on stentorian trombones, Wagner’s Siegfried as well. Every part of the orchestra is given something beautiful to do, and the BPO embraces the challenge, bringing out the music’s intensity. In the 1903 “Fantasy in G Minor” the violin’s part has a richness and elegance, and Michael Ludwig soars with it. Suk, looking down, must be beaming—It’s hard to imagine his music sounding better than this.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

I can never understand why the music of Josef Suk so seldom appears in international concert programmes, but I may be biased. Born in 1874, he was a composition pupil of Dvořák, and was later to his marry his daughter. A performing violinist, composer, and later a professor at the Prague Conservatoire where his students included Martinů. He was not a prolific composer, but his scores were so immaculately constructed, and his symphonic works showed his gift for creating orchestral colours. The Fantasy is an extended work with a virtuoso role for a solo violin, and, as its title suggests, it is of a rather capricious nature with wide dynamic and mood swings. Yet it is the unending charm of the thematic material that makes it such a totally engaging score. Even more delightful is Pohadka (Fairy Tale), the soft and soothing melody in the first movement surely one of the most exquisite ever written. It tells a story of the love between Raduz and Mahulena, which after trials and tribulations ends in happiness. The second movement owes much to Smetana, though Smetana would surely have loved to compose a dance tune of such memorable brio. The Fantasticke scherzo is pure joy, even if Suk cannot help repeating that ravishing main melody quite often. With every appearance of the Buffalo Philharmonic and their inspirational conductor, JoAnn Falletta, I grow increasingly impressed by every section of the orchestra, and here they outshine any previous recording of these three scores by a large margin. The sound quality is so natural and unforced which ideally suits the music.

Blair Sanderson, March 2011

Coming at the end of the Romantic era, Josef Suk was deeply influenced by the major composers of his day, particularly Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák (who was his father-in-law), and later on by his contemporaries, Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Because these influences meshed with Suk’s own profound feeling for Czech themes and a melancholy streak in his makeup, his post-Romantic music looks backward toward a lost past, rather than forward to a confrontation with modernism. The Fantasy in G minor, which amounts to a free-form violin concerto in a single movement, is firmly rooted in the tradition of Dvořák, and the brilliant violin solo is played with sparkling bravado by Michael Ludwig. The four-movement Fairy Tale, which began its life as incidental music for the play Radúz a Mahulena by Julius Zeyer, is rich with folk feeling and offers some lush orchestration that plainly owes a debt to Strauss. The Fantastické Scherzo, close in its genesis to the Fantasy, is a mercurial piece that seems to be a blending of the symphonic scherzo with more explicitly Bohemian dance music. It is clearly a descendant of the Slavonic Dances, and reinforces the close personal connection between Suk and Dvořák. These 2010 performances by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra are lively and vibrantly colorful, and Naxos’ clear and focused reproduction leaves nothing to the imagination.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group