Josef Suk Asrael Symphony Op.27 - Two Performances

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Asrael Symphony in C minor op. 27
by Josef Suk

1. Movement "Andante sostenuto"
2. Movement "Andante"
3. Movement "Vivace"
4. Movement "Adagio"
5. Movement "Adagio maestoso"

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Válek, conductor
Prague III.&IV.1992

Walter Weller: Josef Suk Asrael Symphony
National Orchestra of Belgium

Josef Suk's "coming to terms" piece concerning the deaths of his father in law Antonin Dvorak and a year later that of his wife Otilka here in a live performance by the National Orchestra of Belgium under chief conductor Walter Weller. I'll let Musicweb's Paul Serotsky give his vision on the piece now:

(0:43) Part I: 1. Andante sostenuto concerns the struggle between Life and Death. Asrael, a threatening shadow, observes the rich vitality of Life. Unfurling his leathery wings, he swoops in search of prey. His cold hand touches his chosen victim, and Life fights back. Realising (once more) that the conclusion is foregone, Life commits all its energies to a desperate struggle. But the strength that Life expends is the soul that Asrael gains, relentlessly sucked out of this world into the next.

(14:29) Part I: 2. Andante reflects Loss. Among tombstones and dew-drenched foliage, the bereft gather. A comforting arm is forgotten as out of the mist emerges a dreadful cortège, adding to shock the pain of immediacy. Witnessed dimly through tear-blurred eyes, ceremony becomes interminable purgatory. In turning away, the heart protests at what it was born to bear, then shrinks fearfully back into the relative comfort of numbness.

(20:51) Part I: 3. Vivace presents two dances. Asrael's is a protracted, savage and aggressive dance of victory, of which he never tires. After Asrael's dance Life celebrates its infinitely sweeter joys in a dance recalling Dvorak's miniature masterpieces. This is more muted, its participants constantly aware of the transience of earthly pleasures. Slipping unseen amongst his future victims, the Grim Reaper pricks their souls to keep them aware. Scornful of their weakness, he exults in his fateful supremacy.

(32:59) Part II: 4. Adagio is Suks professed portrait of Otilka. It is not a photographic representation of what she was, but a remembrance, a vision that must penetrate the dark glass of desolation. Initially almost imperceptible, this light grows in the mind, consuming the enveloping darkness, until memories of this purest, sweetest soul supplant reality. But the mind cannot be fooled for long, and reality bursts the bubble. Seen against grim actuality, the vision becomes by contrast still more vivid. Inevitably, in burning brighter it burns itself out, and the dreadful darkness returns.

(43:32) Part II: 5. Adagio e maestoso. What is the point of living? cries the bereaved, when numbness recedes to leave the mind in unbearable pain. Here is the crisis: the anguished mortal soul, beset by overwhelming emotions - loss, guilt, rage, impotence - turns on itself and tears itself apart. Torment and torpor alternate, while on the sidelines the arrogant Asrael licks his lips in anticipation of a bonus. But the mind's torment is purgative - one fine day the sun rises, and the mind is healed - not restored, but miraculously reconciled with its loss. Asrael's supremacy is an illusion, his victory hollow: he may claim lives, but Life itself survives.