AsraelA good place to start getting to know Josef Suk’s powerful Symphony No 2 in C minor (Asrael) is the second movement, Andante. Asrael is the old testament angel of death, and Suk began composing this work early in 1905, nine months after the death of his father-in-law (and teacher) Anton Dvorak. It started out as a celebration of Dvorak’s life, but in July that year Suk’s wife, Otilie Suková (Dvorak’s daughter), also died, and the tone of the work changed from optimism to despair. The second movement quotes from Dvorak’s Requiem, but behind the main melodic material is a persistent Db, played by flutes and a muted trumpet, which continues throughout most of the movement, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foregroumd. It has been memorably described by John Stearne as “like an eye gazing fixedly into space”. The third movement scherzo is also a highlight – a manic waltz that all but falls apart in its agitation.

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