Josef Suk began writing the funeral symphony Asrael to commemorate his teacher and father-in-law Antonín Dvořák. During the course of work, however, Fate dealt him another crushing blow: Asrael, the Angel of Death, took away Suk's wife and Dvořák's daughter Otilie. The symphony is a story of a suffering whose strength seems simply unendurable, yet also a story of its overcoming, seeking solace and hope. Sir Charles Mackerras's live recording of Asrael originated on a Good Friday, 6 April 2007, one hundred years after the symphony's premiere. The young Australian conductor had first heard about Asrael some sixty years previously from Suk's close friend, Václav Talich. In later years, Mackerras confessed that he perceived the work in a completely different light after his daughter had died. Sir Charles conducted Suk's Asrael during one of his last performances with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. It is also his last previously unreleased recording with this orchestra.
Suk's Asrael - Sir Charles Mackerras's last previously unreleased recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
“There are so many moments that come memorably to life in this reading…the driving energy of Mackerras's conducting is thrilling, and the combination of clarity and warmth that he finds in Suk's orchestral textures comes across impressively…it's quite simply the greatest performance I've ever heard of Asrael.“
International Record Review, March 2011
“Mackerras has the advantage of an orchestra that has lived and breathed this music for 100 years — it was premiered exactly a century before these concerts — and his own deep involvement with Czech music gives him persuasive insights.“
The Sunday Times, 20th March 2011 ****
“Mackerras's performance has a wonderful objectivity about it, as well as a quiet intimacy in the more reflective moments. Superbly played, it's a perfect demonstration of why Mackerras was a great conductor, and of his ability to bring the best out of whoever and whatever he was conducting.“
The Guardian, 31st March 2011 ****
“The Czech Philharmonic’s live performance breathes a conviction and beneath-the-skin rapture that you won’t find in any other recording.“
Financial Times, 16th April 2011 ****
“Asrael encompasses formal experiment, superb orchestration, a magnificent grasp of scale and, above all, an unerring feel for catharsis…Charles Mackerras's performance encapsulates all of these qualities…Not only does he see the staggering originality of Suk's vision, but, effortlessly, he folds into his interpretation the depth of his knowledge of the Czech repertoire…this is the closest to the definitive version we have.“
BBC Music Magazine, May 2011 *****
“Mackerras keeps a shrewdly tight rein on Suk's huge structure, while allowing impressive momentum and emotional firepower to build in the big central scherzo movement…a remarkable performance of a remarkable work.“
Classic FM, June 2011 ****
“The orchestra rekindles an excitement and personality found decades before. No other version quite conveys the stature of Asrael as a seminal 20th-century symphony.“
Gramophone, June 2018