The steady increase in recordings of his music has now established Suk as one of the great musical poets of the early 20th century. Too much is made of his affinities with his teacher and father-in-law, Dvorák; for his own part, Dvorák never imposed his personality on his pupils and Suk's mature music owes him little more than a respect for craft and an extraordinarily well developed ear for orchestral colour. His affinities in the five-movement A Summer's Tale, completed in 1909 – a magnificent successor to his profound Asrael Symphony – reflect Debussy and parallel the music of his friend Sibelius and Holst, but underpinning the musical language is a profound originality energising both form and timbre.
Mackerras's recording joins a select band: Šejna's vintage performance on Supraphon and Pešek's inspired rendition with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; his is an equal to them both and the Czech Philharmonic's playing is both aspiring and inspiring. While their reading is suffused with a feeling for the work's myriad orchestral colours, they recognise that Suk's music is much more than atmosphere. In particular they excel in their handling of the drama and overwhelming emotional urgency of this remarkable, big-boned symphonic poem.
James Brown may be "the hardest working man in show business," Aretha Franklin may be the Queen of Soul, but as Ultimate Hits Collection proves, the most apt nickname in all of music may belong to Ray Charles: the Genius. Forget for a moment that fitting all of Charles' hits on a mere two CDs is not remotely possible. Almost any Ray Charles greatest-hits compilation is going to be excellent, and this one is better than most, if only because it's two-discs long. Ultimate Hits Collection follows the path of Charles' work as it cruises through the genres he so richly influenced: R&B, pop, jazz, blues, and country. The standard favorites are here from Charles' repertoire, but what sets this compilation apart are the lesser-known tracks. "Mess Around" and "Hide 'Nor Hair" are certainly not as popular as "Hit the Road Jack," but they are no less enjoyable. The most welcome inclusion is Charles' version of the country classic "You Don't Know Me," which is often left off of other Charles retrospectives.
This is the second fine Don Giovanni we have had within the past year. Like Gardiner (Archiv), Mackerras includes every note Mozart wrote for both the original Prague version and the Viennese revival. Moreover, it is easier than ever for listeners to ‘programme in’ their preferred version: all Prague die-hards have to do is to bypass Don Ottavio’s ‘Dalla sua pace’ in Act I – a beautiful aria, in all conscience, though it holds up the dramatic action at a crucial stage. By coaxing a modern orchestra into a real awareness of period style, Mackerras seems to have the best of both worlds: the playing has admirable liveliness and intensity, and there are none of the intonation problems that so often plague actual period instruments. Mackerras does use natural trumpets, and their rasping sound lends real bite, not least to the overture’s chilling opening chords. In his introductory essay Mackerras argues that Mozart’s Andantes in ‘cut-time’ (ie two beats to the bar) are often taken too slowly.
Honegger was an eclectic composer whose achievement is well reflected in this stimulating compilation. Dutoit’s recording of the oratorio King David is particularly compelling: on hearing it one understands why the composer frequently returned to the formula of narrator, soloists, chorus and orchestra.