It is less than 18 months since Supraphon released what is arguably the finest version of Josef Suk's Asrael currently available, a 2007 live recording from Prague, with Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Philharmonic. The new version was also recorded in Prague, at a concert Jirí Belohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave at the Spring festival there four years ago. Both Suk's memorial symphony and Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem from the same concert are wonderfully well played by the BBC orchestra, and the recording is startlingly vivid, but there is a contrived, histrionic quality to Belohlávek's approach to Asrael that tends to diminish its power rather than enhance its sense of tragedy. Alongside Mackerras's unadorned directness, which always allows the music to speak for itself, it seems overwrought and overbearing. But the account of Britten's early masterpiece, which gets the whole second disc to itself, is much more convincing. There's a real lowering intensity to the first movement, and a manic desperation to the second, so that the consolation offered by the finale really seems to have been earned.
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