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Jonathan Plowright is both versatile and full of surprises. After his superb recordings for BIS of Brahms’ complete piano music he now turns his attention to the neglected piano music of Josef Suk (1874-1935). Suk may have been overshadowed by Janáček, his Czech compatriot and a genius of another order, but as Jan Smaczny tells us in his informative sleeve note, his admirers included not only Dvořák but Artur Schnabel, who gave the premiere performance of Summer impressions Op 22b. Yet the reasons for Suk’s neglect are not hard to understand: if brevity is the soul of wit, such a belief applies too infrequently to those romantic character pieces that outstay their welcome.

‘Awaiting’ from Spring and ‘Evening mood’ from Summer impressions are of far from heavenly length; listeners should turn to ‘Longing’ from Op 22a and ‘Song of Love’ from Op 7 for a truer sense of Suk’s quality. Elsewhere, the opening ‘Spring’ from Op 22a is suitably ecstatic and the mournful questioning of the fourth untitled number from the same opus is intriguing. There are hints of impressionism (Suk was among Debussy’s admirers) in ‘At Noon’ From Op 22b, but the dumka from Op 7 is much less memorable than Tchaikovsky’s celebrated example from the same genre. Finally, there is a welcome rush of sap in the ‘Spring idyll’ concluding Op 10.

There are memories, some vivid some faded, of Brahms, Schumann and Grieg, though Suk’s prowess as a pianist is very much to the fore. What is incontrovertible is the quality of Plowright’s skill and affection. He makes it impossible to imagine performances of greater warmth and stylistic assurance, crowned by Hyperion’s outstanding sound.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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