Josef Suk is more famous for his string Serenade and Asrael Symphony – and for being Dvorˇák’s student, and eventual son-in-law – than for his piano writing, but there have nonetheless been a number of pianists who’ve recorded his solo piano repertoire, with Niel Immelman’s four-volume set on Meridian the first to cover the complete works.
British pianist Jonathan Plowright has recorded four sets here, two from the first half of the 1890s, during and immediately after Suk’s studies at the Prague Conservatory, the Opus 7 Piano Pieces and Opus 10 Moods, and two from 1902, Spring and Summer Impressions.
Plowright gives rich, imaginative performances that bely the lightness implied by the titles of Suk’s character pieces. The first movement of Spring, which opens the album with a curtain-raising chord gesture, kicks off a disc brimming with personality – from both Suk and Plowright. The second track, Breeze, slides up and down the keyboard in short gusts, like fallen leaves at the mercy of capricious gusts. The third and fourth movements are more reflective, troubled even, before the final, tender Longing.
The outer movements of Summer Impressions, At Noon and Evening Song, are quiet and gently brooding, while the central Children At Play is spirited without descending into cutesiness.
There are a number of highlights: Plowright’s Humoresque, from the Opus 7 set, is deliciously light-fingered, while the slow-waltz Idyll movements are hazy and dream-like. In the Capriccio movement of Moods, Plowright contrasts fleet delicacy with weightier, dramatic figures in a playful back and forth. Spring Idyll, which caps off the set, is brightly rollicking.
All in all this is a charming release, Plowright finding in Suk’s short pieces a surprising depth and subtlety that makes for satisfying listening.