Strauss: Elektra & Der Rosenkavalier (suites) - Honeck
Reference Recordings FR-722SACD
Classical - Orchestral
Strauss: Elektra & Der Rosenkavalier (suites)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck (conductor)
This new recording presents orchestral suites based on two of the most significant operas in history. Der Rosenkavalier found its place in the concert hall from the beginning, first with two waltz sequences and later with the famous 1944 suite. But Elektra remained purely on the opera stage until now. Conductor Manfred Honeck has made his own symphonic adaptation, in collaboration with the Czech composer Tomás˘ Ille.We proudly present these Strauss suites, new and old, in definitive interpretations from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in superb audiophile sound.
This release is the sixth in the highly acclaimed Pittsburgh Live! series of multi-channel hybrid SACD releases on the FRESH! series from Reference Recordings. Each has received dozens of critical accolades. Dvořák/Janáček (FR-710SACD) and Bruckner 4 (FR-713SACD) have each received GRAMMY® nominations for Best Orchestral Performance.
With a legacy of more than 120 years, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is 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, and John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” in 1986. The Pittsburgh Symphony also has an illustrious history in the areas of recordings and radio concerts dating back to the 1930s.
And, with a long and distinguished history of touring both domestically and overseas since 1900—including more than 37 international tours to Europe, the Far East and South America—the Pittsburgh Symphony continues to be critically acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest orchestras. 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 80 Grammy nominations.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - October 28, 2016
Simply sensational! The eminent sound quality, for which Soundmirror, Boston deserves all the credits, takes the listener straight into the reality of Heinz Hall where Maestro Manfred Honeck grabs you by the throat with his ‘shaped into the minutest detail’ Pittsburgh Symphony, in a high octane performance of a new ‘Elektra Suite’ conceptualized by him and realized by his Czech friend Tomáš Ille.
Not long after creating a ‘Rusalka Suite’ ( Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 - Honeck ) , Honeck tackles Richard Strauss’ Elektra to extract another ‘new’ suite aiming at conveying the gist of this ‘cruel and complex’ (Honeck’s words) opera. In his notes he sets out which music he has chosen from the parts that best ‘bring to life the extreme dramatic narrative and soaring emotional intensity of the story’. I’m not really an opera man and listening to a recording doesn’t give the same satisfaction as a live performance in an Opera House with all the dramatized action on stage. That’s why I’m so pleased with Honeck’s concept, enriching the catalogue with such a perfect ‘music only’ synthesis for the Concert Hall. Another Strauss’ ‘tone poem’ of substantial weight, one might say.
There is, of course, no comparison available, so we have to take it as it comes. As I suggested before, the listener is right from the start overwhelmed by the sheer force of the music and the remarkably realistic character of the recorded sound, placing the different sections in an array of individually recognizable instruments. It clearly needs a highly competent and disciplined orchestral force to handle the selected material. And that is just what is here on offer. The Pittsburgh Symphony has, under its present Music Director, further developed into one of the most prestigious American orchestras, qualifying for universal respect and, above all, continued popular support as ‘an unmistakable monument of modern American orchestral culture’. Indeed, this is an orchestra expertly managed from the top by a gifted, inspired and precision minded ‘Chef’ keeping each and every one on a string into shaping an extraordinarily and homogenous overall sound scape.
Before continuing with the next ‘suite’, I suggest taking a pause in order to digest the drama to its fullest extent and to prepare for what is still to come.
Arthur Rodzinski’s arrangement of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ is, indeed, a different and easier to digest cup of tea. Lovers of Richard Strauss will find here much to enjoy: After a mighty, positively inspired ‘Sonnenaufgang’ opening, the scene is set for almost 25 minutes of pure delight. Although some might miss the singing, I, for one, am perfectly happy as it is, without. The soloists of the orchestra, be they the harpist, the hornist(s), the oboist, the violin (beautifully played by the orchestra’s former Concertmaster, Noah Bendix-Balgley, now Konzertmeister with the BPO), and others take on these rôles more than adequately in Rodzinski’s arrangement. The voluptuous orchestral sound of the Pittsburghers does the rest, with the Viennese waltzes being in capable expert hands of its Austrian born Music Director.
Honeck’s notes explain in detail what is included and why, and what has been added.
Other recordings of this suite are available in the hi-res domain, but they all have their minuses’ of one sort or another. In my view this is the one to go for.
Honeck’s credentials as one of today’s foremost Strauss conductors are by now well established and this disk delivers beyond a shade of doubt another honour to his already opulent honours list. But it should, in all honesty, be added that a performance is so much better if a conductor can rely on top musicians and ditto recording specialists, to wit the Pittsburgh Symphony and Soundmirror from Boston.
Isn’t there something for which I have to warn prospective buyers? I’m afraid not. At least I cannot think of anything. This is a disk of high caliber from every perspective, with all the spontaneity of a live recording and without any audible noises from a clearly impressed audience.
Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - October 28, 2016
All Straussians will be intrigued by this latest release from Manfred Honeck and his marvellous Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra of orchestral suites from what many would regard as the greatest of the composer's fifteen operas - Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, (though I would also include Salome and Die Frau ohne Schatten in any shortlist). Honeck has already demonstrated his mastery of the Strauss idiom in his previous fine accounts of some of the tone poems for both the Reference Recordings and Exton labels so the bar is set very high for any new release in this series.
The first item on the disc is the world premiere recording of a suite from Strauss's fourth opera Elektra. This opera, the composer's first collaboration with the poet and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, could fairly be described as a tone poem with voices, since the orchestra is without doubt the main protagonist. Of course, as well as being fully staged in the opera house, Elektra is often given in concert performance and this is possibly one of the reasons why Honeck, in collaboration with the Czech composer Tomáš Ille, has produced this 'Symphonic Rhapsody', first heard in Pittsburgh in 2014, as a means to bring the appreciation of Strauss's searing masterpiece to an even wider audience.
Honeck and Ille have carried out what was surely a challenging task with considerable skill and fashioned a coherent and gripping single-movement piece lasting 33'39” that convincingly encapsulates both the dramatic power of Strauss's music and the crux of the original blood soaked tragedy. In the liner notes accompanying this superbly recorded SACD, Honeck provides a guide (with timings) to the music he has selected for his arrangement. By and large this follows the events of the story closely but the inclusion of some cue points on the disc would have been helpful for listeners unfamiliar with the opera's action. Needless to say the incredible richness of the scoring and the complexity of the composer's harmonic vocabulary also provide a marvellous showcase for the remarkable virtuosity of the Pittsburgh musicians who unflinchingly rise to the challenge with incisive playing that generates scorching levels of visceral excitement.
The contrast between the music of Strauss's first collaboration with Hofmannsthal and his second, 'Der Rosenkavalier', could hardly be more marked. Though the composer arranged some of the work's many waltzes for concert performance he never compiled a suite from the opera and what is known as the 'Rosenkavalier Suite' is believed to be the work of the conductor Artur Rodzinski.
Der Rosenkavalier has always been the horn player's opera par excellence, something the magnificent horn section of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra confirm at the opening of the suite, while a few bars later they deliver Strauss's orgasmic whoopings with thrilling relish. Honeck's subtly nuanced use of rubato and portamento in Ochs's waltz has the natural feel that one would expect from a conductor with his Viennese training and experience as a former member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, but the way he has communicated this style to his players is nothing short of miraculous. All the lyrical passages such as the Act II Presentation of the Silver Rose and the glorious final Trio are conveyed with heart melting tenderness and sumptuous tone, and though some might question his languid tempi for such sections in a performance of the complete opera, they seem entirely appropriate here. In contrast to the opera, Rodzinski's arrangement ends resplendently with a boisterous waltz delivered with unabashed élan by the PSO.
Thanks to the efforts of the Soundmirror team the opulence, spaciousness and vividness of the recording quality of this hybrid SACD (5.1 surround, stereo SACD and CD stereo) is all that one could wish for.
Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net