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Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 - Honeck

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 - Honeck

Reference Recordings  FR-713SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 "Romantic", Nowak edition

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck


Anton Bruckner is known as a deeply religious composer whose Catholic spirituality is prominent in his music, particularly his later symphonies. However, his Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major ("Romantic") is one of his most secular, most influenced by nature and most popular works. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Manfred Honeck offer a bold new interpretation of this great music, breaking Bruckner out of the strictly interpreted box in which he is often placed. Here, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Honeck present the 1878/80 version, the same version that was used for the symphony's premiere in 1881.

This release is the third in the highly acclaimed "Pittsburgh Live!" series of multi-channel hybrid SACD releases on the FRESH! Series from Reference Recordings. The previous release, "Dvorák/Janácek" (FR-710SACD), has received a Grammy® nomination along with numerous critical accolades.

For more than 119 years, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has been known for its artistic excellence, a rich history of the world's finest conductors and musicians, and a strong commitment to the Pittsburgh region and its citizens. Past music directors have included many of the greats, including Fritz Reiner (1938-1948), William Steinberg (1952-1976), Andre Previn (1976-1984), Lorin Maazel (1984-1996) and Mariss Jansons (1995-2004). This tradition of outstanding international music directors was furthered in fall 2008, when Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck became music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

The orchestra has been at the forefront of championing new American works, and gave the first performance of Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 "Jeremiah" in 1944. The Pittsburgh Symphony has a long and illustrious history in the areas of recordings and radio concerts. As early as 1936, the Pittsburgh Symphony broadcast on the airwaves coast-to-coast and in the late 1970s it made the groundbreaking PBS series "Previn and the Pittsburgh." The orchestra has received increased national attention since 1982 through network radio broadcasts on Public Radio International, produced by Classical WQED-FM 89.3, which are made possible by the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

This release and the entire "Pittsburgh Live!" series are recorded and mastered by the team at Soundmirror, whose outstanding orchestral, solo, opera and chamber recordings have received more than 70 Grammy nominations and awards! Soundmirror has recorded for every major classical record label, now including Reference Recordings.

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Review by Graham Williams - February 23, 2015

There are already countless recordings available of Bruckner's most popular symphony, the 4th, to suit the taste of even the most dedicated Brucknerite. All the great Bruckner interpreters of the past and present have committed this work to disc, often on more than one occasion – Böhm, Jochum, Karajan, Haitink. Blomstedt and Barenboim to name just a few – so any newcomer needs to possess special qualities to tempt collectors in what is a very crowded field. This exceptional new account of the Symphony from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has these in abundance.

Judged by the standard of his earlier releases on Reference Recordings of Strauss Tone Poems Strauss: Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklärung - Honeck and a coupling of works by Dvorak and Janacek
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 / Janacek: Jenufa (suite) - Honeck, as well as his work for other labels, Manfred Honeck has shown himself to be a searching interpreter of everything he conducts, in addition to being an outstandingly cultured musician and fine orchestral trainer.

Like Bruckner, Manfred Honeck is Austrian and also a man of deep religious faith, so it is perhaps not surprising that he shows great empathy with this composer's oeuvre.
Honeck's starting point for his very personal interpretation of the music on this SACD is the scenario that Bruckner devised some time after he had completed the work to justify the title 'Romantic' that he appended to it. Honeck convincingly relates the musical ideas to the literary ones outlined in the composer's programme – something that in some respects moves the symphony closer to becoming a four-movement tone-poem.

In his exceptionally informative booklet notes Honeck writes “I remain personally convinced that Bruckner's musical phrases and thoughts require their own flexible tempi and expressions, particularly when referring to nature and folklore. It is for this reason that the rigorous reading of Bruckner as a master of the organ and counterpoint might not always be thoroughly sound.”
This statement gives an indication of both the freedom of tempi and dynamics that Honeck employs throughout his performance, one for which he has chosen to use the familiar Leopold Nowak (1878/80) edition. But the way one is immediately gripped by the opening bars of Honeck's performance it is clear that it promises to be something quite special.

The romantic atmosphere is immediately established by the ethereal lightness and shimmer of the string tremolos that open the first movement, over which the beautifully played horn solo from William Caballero steals in seemingly from afar. The sheer beauty of the orchestral playing can be appreciated at any point in the Symphony's 66' span, but as an example try the start of the recapitulation (11'54”) where flute and horn intertwine over soft strings and almost tactile timpani – quite magical.

The solemn slow movement is notable for the glowing richness of the Pittsburgh strings especially the delicacy of the eloquently nuanced violas, while Honeck's tempi, are forward moving and purposeful. As one might expect Bruckner's evocation of the hunt in the Scherzo is given special vividness and excitement by Honeck and his orchestra's magnificent brass section. The central Trio of this movement is very relaxed, but the conductor most definitely achieves the 'Gemutlichkeit' he seeks to convey.

Honeck's powerfully driving account of the Finale – a movement of great contrasts and difficult to bring off successfully – is free yet it does not lack cohesion. The pulse is firm though flexible, and he skilfully negotiates the many tempo changes with great aplomb. The gradual build up of tension from the start of the coda to the movement's triumphant ending with its effulgent brass is spine tingling, leaving one with a feeling of huge admiration for all the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

The two earlier Reference Recordings issues mentioned above have demonstrated what the Soundmirror engineers can achieve in the Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, but here they have excelled themselves and produced a recording that is quite exceptional in its dynamic range, clarity and spaciousness. The liner notes include full technical details of how the superlative 5.1 multi-channel sound was achieved from the live performances (6-8 December, 2013).

Overall Honeck's interpretation could be best described as supple and alive rather than coldly marmoreal, and though its undeniable individuality will not appeal to all listeners this distinctive, some might say revelatory, account of Bruckner's 4th Symphony should not be missed.

Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by Mark Novak - August 14, 2015

The plethora of performing editions of Bruckner’s symphonies makes it extraordinarily challenging for a reviewer to place a current recording in proper context. According to the invaluable resource at abruckner.com, there are eight performing editions of the 4th symphony. Maestro Honeck employs the 1878/1880 version edited by Nowak (1953) which is one of the most performed editions of this symphony. Interestingly, this is not Honeck’s first recording of this edition – there is a RBCD version recorded with the Swedish Radio Symphony in April, 2008 on the Dirigent label. In addition, Honeck has also recorded, twice, the Hass 1878/1880 version of this work: in May, 2008 with the Swedish Radio Symphony and in November, 2008 with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It is clear that Manfred Honeck has a special affinity for this piece. Aside from this 4th Symphony, Honeck has recorded symphonies 7, 8 & 9 on RBCD (none of which appear to be available) but that is the extent of his Bruckner recordings. Let’s hope that you are not thoroughly confused at this point!

In the high resolution milieu, there are 26(!) recordings of Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 so the task of assigning inherent value to the Honeck recording is truly daunting insofar as I only have two of the competing hi-rez SACD’s: Nagano on Sony and Vanska on BIS. My RBCD comparators are: Barenboim/Berlin, Haitink/Concergebouw, Solti/Chicago and Masur/NY Phil. So, performing edition aside, where does Honeck fit in this comparison group? I’d put his performance somewhere in the middle of this pack – Solti is a favorite of mine because of its energy and brass intensity while Barenboim represents old school Bruckner in a positive light. After that comes Honeck (and Vanska, who uses a more recent edition edited by Korstvedt – see review Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 - Vänskä – and Nagano who performs an early edition – see review Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 - Nagano). Honeck states in the booklet that he wanted to bring out the strings in certain passages and he seems successful in doing this. I don’t find anything objectionable in Honeck’s pacing and the work flows nicely. I find it overall a successful interpretation.

Sonically, this was recorded during live performances in December, 2013 in the orchestra’s home hall. The recording was done by Soundmirror and was engineered in native DSD 64 fs by John Newton and Mark Donohue. Audience noise is virtually absent. The sound has good, natural string timbres and very good brass sound although it misses just a bit of the natural brass bite. Considering the live nature, it is a wonderful achievement. The mix of hall and ambient sound is judiciously judged. If you are looking to add a good, modern performance of the Bruckner 4th Symphony in very good high resolution sound, this would be a fine choice.

Copyright © 2015 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

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Comment by Carcassi - September 30, 2015 (1 of 1)

Very much enjoyed this performance and found Honeck's account engaging and at times thrilling. The phrasing and articulation of certain passages are occasionally executed differently from other performances I've heard but I appreciate the fresh perspective here. I also thought the recording was very well done but did anyone else notice the noise occurring literally in the last second of the 4th movement? It sounds like either a chair scraping the stage or an error from one of the brass sections. Given the quality of the PSO, I'll assume the former rather than the latter but (nit-picky though it may be) it's a shame that after listening to over an hour of music, performed very well and without a hint of audience noise, the final chord of the piece is marred by this errant sound. It must have been quite frustrating for the performers as well as those in the recording booth but I presume nothing could be done about it in post-production.