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Suk was Dvorák's favourite pupil, and in the best tradition of such relationships he married his daughter Otilie on the November 1898 day that Dvorák celebrated his silver wedding. The marriage lasted only until Otilie's death in 1905, a year after her father's. Suk commemorated them both in the mighty design and lofty ambitions of his Asrael Symphony. A young son remained to Suk, and it was for him that he wrote the five Op 28 piano pieces, About Mother. The keyboard idiom has changed and deepened, reflecting Suk's sombre state of mind after his wife died. This musical tribute to Otilie strikes a fine balance between grief for his loss and hope in the growing boy; it was both a reminder for the child of the mother he had scarcely known and an inspiration enshrined in the warmth of her character. The most telling movement is the third, 'Comme maman chantait, la nuit, à son enfant malade'. The sickness of the child is portrayed in the constant repetition of the note B flat during much of the piece. It is a weary ostinato, becoming almost unbearably insistent as it drags its relentless way through the exhausted mind of mother and child [listen -- track 9, 0:00-0:55]. This piece is evidence enough that Suk was ready to explore in music experiences that were both new to him and fundamentally disturbing.

Risto Lauriala gives a fine account of the music, entering into its varied moods with ready sympathy and responding to Suk's increasing depth of understanding with an equivalent commitment. Oddly enough it is in the simpler music that Lauriala seems sometimes to be trying too hard, as if he cannot quite trust the music to tell its simple tale unvarnished. Rhythmic distortion in the cause of expressiveness creates some moments of unease and imposes an alien sophistication on what is essentially unproblematic. Such blemishes apart, the performances are deft and convincing.

Copyright © 17 April 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK







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