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Suk Asrael Symphony

Brno Philharmonic/Jiří Waldhans

Royal Festival Hall, London 1968

orchestral concert cds: CD7/2009

A fine performance of Suk's great Asrael, captured live in 1968 by recording engineer wizard Geoffrey Terry's unique two-microphone method.

That seeks to bring into the home the balance in the hall as experienced by the conductor on his podium; no tinkering or spotlighting of individual instruments which, with forest of microphones, is now so ubiquitous and puts the engineer on a par with the conductor, with variable results depending on their musical sensitivity and aim for vividness and excitement rather than truth.

This historic performance is involving and seems excellent - I'm not in a position to attempt comparative reviewing. (We don't often have access to scores for reviewing purposes.)

The Orchestral Concert cds interactive website is excellent; a click takes you straight into a sample of Waldhans Asrael. You need no more from me !

Peter Grahame Woolf

Geoffrey Terry writes:

On the night of 20th August 1968, Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Hungarian and East German troops invaded Czechoslovakia; Dubček’s desire for political reform was over. Three months later, my Czech-born wife and I sat in the Royal Festival Hall, London, as the Brno Philharmonic opened their concert with the Czechoslovak National Anthem. We were both brought to tears. The concert included the Asrael symphony by Josef Suk. Jiří Waldhans conducted a very intense and moving performance by František Škroup (1801–1862). . It was clear that the orchestra was affected by the soul of the symphony, combined with the realisation that they were temporarily enjoying freedom whilst back home their families were effectively imprisoned. That night we were not in the auditorium of the hall; we were in a commentators’ box on the side of the stage, where I was controlling the recording equipment. The recording of that historic performance has now been published on this CD.

Track one on this CD is a performance of the Czechoslovak national anthem
Asrael, (the Islamic Angel of death), was the title given to Suk’s masterpiece which he began composing in 1905 and intended as his funeral symphony. Planned to consist of five movements, the sketches of the first three were finished less than six months later. However, on 6th July, 1905, in the middle of his work, Suk’s wife Otilie died. Although the composition was to be a celebration of Dvořák’s life and work, the desolated composer rejected the optimistic tone of the rest of the work. The complete score was finished on 4th October 1906, and was dedicated “to the exalted memory of Dvořák and Otilie.” The symphony was premièred on 3rd February 1907 at the Prague National Theatre.

Unlike Suk’s previous compositions, Dvořák’s influence is not evident in this work; rather, he takes on polyphonic and harmonic techniques. Glorious romantic melodies contrast with almost grotesque orchestral acrobatics in the heartfelt expression of one who has lost everything he loved and loved very profoundly. The closing moments seem to paint a picture of the composer entering heaven and meeting up once more with the two people he worshipped. This is probably the most dramatic recording of this work ever to have been produced; an opinion backed up by Fanfare magazine - - an intensely dramatic, detailed Asrael, alive to the sudden changes of emotional character throughout - - we can only be glad the engineering side of matters was in such capable hands …

This live recording is of an event in musical history that should be heard by all. Brno Philharmonic has not been attributed the status it deserves by the media, and Maestro Waldhans’ work has gone generally unnoticed. I hope that the two Orchestral Concert CDs issues (this disc and CD1/2008, the Dvořák Symphony no 9) will, one day, earn justly deserved recognition of a great conductor and a great man, Jiří Waldhans.


1. a fair laudatory review from MusicWeb

2. Mackerras's last recording with the Czech Phil,


3. another Asrael at SUK Asrael MalayPhil



MOZART Violin Sonata in A, K 526 BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata No. 2 BRAHMS Violin Sonata No. 3 •

Alfredo Campoli (violin) Peter Katin (piano)

Virtual Concert Hall Series


These are compelling duo recordings of well-remembered famous performers of the past, though Peter Katin (b.1930) is happily still alive.

The three popular sonatas come out of the loud speakers with stunning presence and immediacy.

Recommended, and do explore this special small label *.

Peter Grahame Woolf

I am pleased to append extracts from a lengthy review in Fanfare. PGW

- - According to producer Geoffrey Terry’s notes the violinist became a sort of hero - - the third volume of his Orchestral Concert series, in “Certified Natural Sound Technique Recording,” which he compares favorably to procedures in which the engineers rather than performers have ultimate control. Listeners will first notice that while there’s little reverberation, the ambiance seems warm yet focused. Campoli produced a wealth of nuances in the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata, and I’ve never heard his fabled tone (nor perhaps anyone else’s) in such vivid fidelity; a similar lushness characterizes the piano’s tone as well. - - The recorded sound magnifies all the reading’s virtues in ratio in which many recordings diminish them. - - In Campoli’s reading with Katin, the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata sounds particularly virtuosic; contrapuntal passages unfold with vigorous energy, perhaps partly the result of recorded sound that listeners miss in tapes of performances in which they’ve participated or simply heard live.

Brahms’s Third Sonata, recorded in Campoli’s home, offers some spiky moments in the first movement (as well as some seeming roughness at climaxes). The instruments sound as though they’re placed closer together in this venue, and their sounds seem correspondingly less antiphonal than they did in the first two Sonatas. Campoli’s violin projects a ruddy autumnal glow at the end of the first movement, and especially at the end of the second. - - Given the startling realism of the recorded sound, it’s perhaps fitting that the program consists of repertoire in which the two instruments form a true partnership. Considering that Campoli served Terry as a hero, however, it’s clear that Terry, in his turn, served his hero exceptionally well. That hero also served himself well—these live performances sound communicative as well as brilliant: far from superficial, they richly deserve the lavish package in which they’ve been wrapped. This issue deserves to be a part of most collections. - - Very strongly recommended. Robert Maxham [Fanfare Magazine].

* P.S. It is a pleasure to add reminiscences of Campoli by Geoffrey Terry, his friend and the recording engineer of this important release. PGW

- - Having been born with such a natural talent Alfredo Campoli (b. Rome 1906 d. Berkshire 1991) might, reasonably, have been expected to build his life around that talent. He did not; he enjoyed many activities and simply played when asked.

It was an unusual talent in the sense that he might be compared with Maria Callas or Luciano Pavarotti, not only because his tone was absolutely unique but also because he based his approach to performance on ‘bel canto’. Just a few notes and his wonderful sound is instantly recognisable. Unfortunately, the recordings of his performances that remain, although providing some insight into his tone and style, do not do full justice to the enormous sound he drew from the instrument.

Alfredo's first teacher was his father, leader of the orchestra at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma. His mother was a dramatic soprano who had toured with Scotti and Caruso. The family moved to London in 1911, and five years later Alfredo was already giving public concerts. By the age of thirteen he had won so many prizes that he was asked not to compete in future competitions. In 1919 after winning the London Music Festival gold medal he went on to tour with such singers as Nellie Melba and Clara Butt.

During the depression there was little demand for a soloist and Alfredo formed his Salon Orchestra and the Welbeck Light Quartet, playing at restaurants in London, and other such venues. He first appeared at a Prom in 1938 and during the Second World War gave numerous concerts for the Allied troops. After the war, he had extended tours of Europe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia, and eventually clocked up over 1,000 BBC broadcasts. The current masters of that illustrious body have since forgotten his great contribution to the broadcasts of that time and show no interest whatever in permitting listeners to hear his glorious sound. Alfredo Campoli owned the Dragonetti Stradivarius, but it was his 1843 Rocca that he used predominantly, the Dragonetti being housed in the bank for security.

Alfredo made his American début in 1953 (Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the NY Phil under George Szell) and in 1955 gave the first performance of the Violin Concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss, written for him. In 1956 he twice toured the Soviet Union.

He considered the phrasing of each passage and if he could achieve 'bel canto' by shortening or lengthening a note, then he would do so. He was not afraid to lift the bow from the strings, an act that seems to be completely avoided by today's exponents of the instrument. Brief breaks of sound can add tremendous drama and power to a performance, even when not indicated by the composer.

In 1961 I made a recording of Alfredo Campoli playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Hayes Orchestra in Bromley, Kent. The cadenza from the first movement is just a miracle. My wife and I subsequently visited Alfredo at his home in Southgate on many occasions and I had the great pleasure and privilege of recording him in rehearsal with Peter Katin. Daphne Ibbott and Valerie Tryon, I also promoted his last Queen Elizabeth Hall recital, which I also recorded and will published at a later date. In 1963 I recorded a lunchtime recital in the Fairfield Halls Croydon, given by Alfredo with the formidable British pianist Peter Katin. Two sonatas from that recording have now been published, together, with a Brahms sonata, recorded by the same duo in Alfredo’s Southgate home, to create a new CD; reviews of which are quoted below.

The recording in Alfredo’s home was made in his music room, a rectangular room approximately eight metres by four; in Vienna in the days of Brahms composers were more likely to hear their works performed in private homes, palaces and castles rather than in concert halls, the sound quite different to that of a purpose built concert hall. It is an intimate sound, an historic document of the great maestro performing in his own home. Lovers of the violin who did not hear Alfredo Campoli playing in a live situation missed the opportunity to hear probably the greatest, English violinist. I have decided to devote as much time as possible to issuing the substantial collection of private recordings I made of him during our years of friendship, with the blessing of his then surviving widow, Joy Campoli.
Geoffrey Terry