The Czech composer, Josef Suk 1874-1935), studied at the Prague Conservatory where he became Dvořák’s favourite student. In 1898 he married the older composer’s daughter, Ottilie though he was to later suffer the double loss in a period of just fourteen months of his beloved father in law (1st May 1904) and his wife (5th July 1905). He wrote his Asrael Symphony whilst contending with this double tragedy, Asrael being the angel that attends the spirit of the dead.
As a violinist he played as a member of the Czech Quartet for most of his life. His earlier Serenade for Strings (1892) was much influenced by Dvořák. His compositions include choral works, symphonic poems and two symphonies as well as piano and chamber works. His grandson was the famous violinist Josef Suk (1929-2011).
It is his chamber works that feature on a new 2 CD release from CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/home that brings together Suk’s complete works for string quartet as well as his Piano Quintet. The artists on this new disc are the Minguet Quartet www.minguet.de and pianist Matthias Kirschnereit http://matthias-kirschnereit.de
The members of the Minguet Quartet, founded in 1988, are Ulrich Isfort and Annette Reisinger (violins), Aroa Sorin (viola) and Matthias Diener (cello). The quartet takes its name from Pablo Minguet, an eighteenth-century Spanish philosopher who attempted in his writings to make the fine arts accessible to the masses. In 2010 the Minguet Quartet was awarded the prestigious Echo Klassik Prize www.echoklassik.de .
Matthias Kirschnereit began studying piano at the Detmold Music Academy, Germany with Professor Renate Kretschmar-Fischer. His intensive collaboration with Sandor Végh and the Camerata Academica Salzburg have been of major significance for his understanding of Mozart leading him to record that composer’s complete piano concertos with the Bamberg Symphoniker under Frank Beermann for Arte Nova/BMG. Since 1997, Matthias Kirschnereit has been a professor at the newly founded Academy of Music and Theater in Rostock, Germany.
Josef Suk’s String Quartet No.1 in B-Flat Major, Op. 11 was written in 1896. It is in four movements opening with an Allegro Moderato that has a fine transparency with a rather ethereal sound, finely controlled by the Minguet Quartet as they rise to a peak before a buoyant tune arrives that has a fine rhythmic lilt. There is a terrific ebb and flow with these players following every dynamic, finding many little individual details. They seem to hold the balance between joy and passion with some beautifully quieter moments. There is a constant flow throughout as well as some wonderfully incisive phrases before the gentle coda.
It is the rhythmic quality of the Tempo di Marcia that the Minguet Quartet point up so well, especially as the music speeds, with these players having a lightness of touch combined with an incisive grip on the music.
The Adagio ma non troppo brings some very fine playing full of deep emotion, building at times in rich string tones with some fine emotional surges. Indeed it is their finely judged building of emotional passages around the beautifully hushed moments that adds so much to this performance.
The Allegro giocoso shoots off, full of energy, whilst keeping a constant rhythm and flow. The Minguet Quartet brings some lovely playful touches to Suk’s little details with a lovely freedom as the movement develops. This is playing of great panache and spontaneity. There are some lovely mellow passages, offset by firm incisive bowing before the dashing coda.
This is a most satisfying performance.
The Quartet movement in B-Flat major dates from two decades later when Suk proposed to replace the last movement of his first quartet. Although he was no longer happy with the original finale, his musical language had moved on making this replacement unsuitable. Certainly it has never taken its place in this work.
Nevertheless, as a stand-alone movement it has an attractive rhythmic lilt with a few dissonances appearing. It takes a steady pace with rises and falls in dynamics before a reflective passage. Soon the music picks up its rhythmic buoyancy again leading to a passage with an insistent, constantly rising theme with the Minguet Quartet revealing much of Suk’s fine invention. After a moment of relative repose the music takes off again. There is a pizzicato passage before the rhythmically bouncing theme returns. A later, freer flowing section with a beautifully swaying theme is so well caught by this Quartet before the music picks up to lead to the coda.
The String Quartet No. 2, Op. 31 dates from 1910/11 and is one of Suk’s finest works. Again in four movements the opening Adagio ma non troppo has a lovely gentle opening out of which the Minguet Quartet draw some exquisite textures before the music rises up with passion. This Quartet finds a natural line and flow through all of Suk’s twists and turns revealing many fine little details. What a distance Suk had travelled in the 14 years since his first quartet. Here is a freedom, tonally and structurally, that he seemed to be striving for earlier. It is full of passion often quite volatile with some lovely, wistful, playful moments before leading into the second movement.
With the lovely Adagio mesto, molto espressivo this Quartet brings a beautiful texture, such fine care of dynamics with beautifully controlled, sensitive playing and subtle colouring of phrases. The pace soon picks up with a livelier, yet gentle section, only to regain its original stance though with more passion, a passion this Quartet finds in abundance.
Rich sonorous strings provide a lovely opening to the Adagio mesto with some lovely little quieter moments. The Minguet Quartet brings such beautiful refined hushed playing that digs deep into one’s emotions. The livelier section that follows shows off the Quartet’s terrific ensemble and ability to interact and weave sounds with some terrific playing, full of strength and emotional substance, reaching a pitch before falling and leading into the finale movement.
The Allegretto is lighter in feel with some very fine string textures from the players who bring out so much of Suk’s fine writing as the music slowly weaves through rises and falls in tempi and dynamics before arriving at a quiet, subdued coda.
The Minguet Quartet gives a tremendously committed performance that brings out all of the beauty and passion of Suk’s great quartet.
The second disc in this set brings Suk’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 8 for which the Minguet Quartet is joined by pianist Matthias Kirschnereit. This quintet dates from 1893 and is in four movements. The Allegro energico opens full of vitality, forging ahead but soon slowing a little, keeping a rocking, swaying feel. These players bring a fine sense of vitality and thrust before a second subject appears where they provide some lovely textures, finding lovely details. As the music speeds again there is incisive, taut playing full of drive and passion before the resolute coda.
In the Adagio (Religioso) the strings lay out a melody over which the piano lays down a series of little scales. The cello then picks up a melody with the piano providing accompaniment in this beautiful passage. Pizzicato strings underlay the piano and cello as the melody progresses. Soon some lovely little piano dissonances subtly appear as well as some lovely little piano decorations showing Matthias Kirschnereit to be an extremely sensitive pianist. This is a really fine adagio where later there is a fine dialogue between string players as they weave the theme before rising to a lovely climax. There is a magical hushed moment with a descending string motif before we are led quietly to the hushed coda.
The Scherzo: Presto has a sudden unison opening statement before the music dances ahead in a lovely rhythmic theme, soon shared between Quartet and piano. Pizzicato strings open a new section with a measured piano part, quite playful at times in the livelier moments for the piano. The music picks up momentum before the opening then returns, the piano dancing forward, reflected by the Quartet with some very fine playing.
A fine sweeping theme is introduced by the piano supported by the Quartet as the Finale: Allegro con fuoco arrives. Soon the music rises in tempo driving forward with resolution, these players bringing some fine moments of passion. There is exquisite playing in the hushed central section before a lovely gentle lead up to the very fine coda.
This is a performance that will surely draw many to this fine work.
The rest of the second disc is given over to smaller pieces for string quartet. The Minuet in G major (1897/1900) is light and breezy with this Quartet revealing all the little rhythmic details before a deeply felt Ballade in D Minor (1890) with some fine sonorities from the Quartet and a lovely little central trio section.
Drawn from a movement of an early String Quartet in D minor dating from around 1888, the Barcarolle in D minor was revised in this form in 1923. It brings a most gorgeous melody, finely played by this Quartet.
The latest work on this disc is the Meditace na taroceský chorál Svatý Václave, Op.35a (Meditation on old Bohemian Chorale St. Wenceslas) which dates from 1914 and intended for string quartet or string orchestra. It is another strikingly fine work, rising from a solo cello motif, the Minguet Quartet drawing some very fine hushed phrases. The music rises to a passionate climax with these players finding so many different textures and colours. After another climax a hushed coda is reached. This is a real gem superbly played by this Quartet.
These artists receive a very fine recording full of warmth and detail and very naturally balanced. There are informative booklet notes. This new release is an excellent way to get to know these fine chamber works in performances that are very fine indeed.