Songs My Great-Grandmother Taught Me – Transcriptions of Dvořák Songs by Josef Suk (with Vladimir Ashkenazy)

0 of 5 stars

Dvořák, transcribed Josef Suk
Gypsy Songs, Op.58
Love Songs, Op.83
Biblical Songs, Op.99

Josef Suk (violin & viola) & Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)

Recorded 6-8 September 2009 in Bohemia Music Studio, Prague

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2010
TOCC 0100
Duration: 60 minutes



Few words needed. There are some lovely pieces here all of which sound as if they are originals for violin and/or viola with piano, a tribute to these very effective transcriptions by Josef Suk, who, recorded a month or so after his 80th-birthday, plays with feeling and insight and is accompanied with power, deftness and discretion by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

‘Songs my mother taught me’ – from “Gypsy Songs” – is recognisable as a hit whatever the scoring – and the moods throughout the disc are as changeable as they are enjoyable, lovely melodies and catchy rhythms – foot-tapping and touching the heart. Thirty songs, sixty minutes; compact in design, considerable in outreach.

This is authoritative music-making in both the endeavour of arranging and through the insights of performance, Suk and Ashkenazy making no concession to age. Production-wise, things are less exalted – editing between tracks can be rudimentary, and the sound is a bit edgy, sometimes doing Suk’s tone few favours, but he plays with intensity and fervour, shaping long lines with ease. The eleven songs that Suk gives to viola are played on Dvořák’s own (now restored) instrument, a less-than-mellow-sounding medium as recorded but one that fully sustains the many emotions given to it. Suk plays both violin and viola in the final track, the eleventh of the Opus 32 “Moravian Duets”, a technological deceit well-enough brought off, although a guesting violinist or violist would have been preferable.

With an illuminating booklet-note by Tully Potter, this perhaps-unexpected release is a great musical success, one, as Potter suggests, that ought to make us orchestral and instrumental wallahs look more closely at Dvořák’s song-output in more depth – but then, a handful of popular pieces aside, there is a great deal of this great composer’s output, in many genres, that is unfortunately neglected. In the meantime, this handsome release from the always-searching Toccata Classics label is very welcome.

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