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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, Leshnoff: Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon - Honeck

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4, Leshnoff: Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon - Honeck

Reference Recordings  FR-738SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4
Leshnoff: Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon

Michael Rusinek, clarinet
Nancy Goeres, bassoon
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, music director


Reference Recordings® proudly presents Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in an exquisite interpretation from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It is coupled with a World Premiere recording of leading American composer Jonathan Leshnoff’s Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon, featuring the extraordinary talents of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s own Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek and Principal Bassoon Nancy Goeres. This hybrid SACD release was recorded in beautiful and historic Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in superb audiophile sound.

Maestro Honeck honors us again with his meticulous music notes, in which he gives us great insight into his interpretation as well as the history and musical structure of Tchaikovsky’s great Symphony No. 4.

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DSD recording

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Recorded Live
May 6-8, 2016 (Tchaikovsky)
June 6-9, 2019 (Leshnoff)

Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA

Soundmirror, Boston:
Recording Producer: Dirk Sobotka
Balance Engineer: Mark Donahue
Editing: Dirk Sobotka
Mixing and Mastering: Mark Donahue
Reviews (1)
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Review by Graham Williams - April 28, 2020

The appearance on CD or even SACD of a new recording of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony would, for most collectors, hardly raise a stir of interest as there are innumerable versions of this – one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular works – available in every format. However, as as many listeners will be aware, any new release from the award-winning team of Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony on the Reference Recordings label is worth investigating as, based on previous form, it is likely to yield a performance that brings new interpretive insights to even the most familiar staples of the classical repertoire. In addition, the superb playing Honeck always elicits from his virtuoso musicians coupled with state-of-the-art sound quality make any new recording from this source rather special. An added inducement here is the inclusion of the world premiere recording of an entrancing concerto by the American composer Jonathan Leshnoff.

The background leading to the composition of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony is thoroughly explored by Manfred Honeck in the fulsome liner notes Reference Recording provide with this SACD. These notes also include the explicit ‘programme’ of the Symphony that the composer sent to his patron Nadezhda von Meck to whom the symphony is dedicated; one that is often quoted in connection with this work. The conductor then meticulously details his interpretative decisions for passages in each of the four movements in his typically imaginative and undogmatic manner leaving the listener to judge their validity.

The arresting opening of the 1st movement with its fortissimo statement of the ‘Fate’ theme is enunciated magnificently by the Pittsburgh brass who excel throughout this recording. Unlike some conductors who drive this movement too hard – thrills at the expense of poise and refinement – Honeck observes Tchaikovsky’s marking of ‘Moderato con anima’ to the letter, the combination of his steady pace and the supple phrasing of his players paying dividends as the music unfolds. Mention must be made of the characterful woodwind (especially the distinctive tone of Nancy Goeres’s bassoon) and the ethereal string playing in the central waltz section. In all respects this is a compelling account of the symphony’s finest movement. The tempo Honeck adopts for the second movement, that opens with a melancholy song for oboe, seems ideal in evoking the memories of youth and past regrets suggested by the composer’s programme while, as one might expect from these superb musicians, the ‘Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato’ that follows is delivered with astonishing precision and lightness that demonstrates playing of the highest technical accomplishment.

Honeck unleashes the finale, a wild rondo, in a tremendous burst of energy in which triangle, cymbals and bass drum make a stunning impact aided by the spectacular high resolution recorded sound. Though his opening tempo for this movement is brisk it is never hectic, so clear articulation of the various lines is never a problem. After the return of the ‘Fate’ theme, and following a quiet timpani roll, the tempo is ratcheted up and the conductor drives the music to an electrifying conclusion that would have any audience on their feet cheering approval.

The recording by the usual Soundmirror team of “acoustic magicians” (Producer: Dirk Sobotka, Balance engineer: Mark Donahue) was made and post produced in DSD256 in the orchestra’s home, Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh (May 6-8, 2016) and is one of unparalleled richness, impact and realism that matches Reference Recordings previous issues from this source.

Most recordings of the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony predictably offer one of the composer’s other popular pieces such as Capriccio Italien or the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture as a makeweight but here we have something more enterprising. The composer Jonathan Leshnoff is probably unfamiliar to most people on this side of the Atlantic, but his considerable compositional output that includes four symphonies, ten concerti, and four oratorios has been widely performed in the United States. I suspect for most listeners, the only Concertante work written in the last hundred years, featuring the unusual combination of clarinet and bassoon, that they will have encountered will be Richard Strauss’s Duet-Concertino of 1947. It is, therefore, a pleasure to welcome such a meticulously crafted and instantly accessible piece as Leshnoff’s ‘Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon’. It was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and is performed immaculately and with winning style on this disc by two of the orchestra’s principals – bassoonist Nancy Goeres and clarinetist Michael Rusinek.

The Concerto is in three short movements (simply entitled, Slow, Waltz and Fast) and the melodic untroubled lyricism of the opening movement is certainly something it shares with the aforementioned Strauss piece. A humorous waltz led by the bassoon follows while the finale that opens with sonorous chords on the brass quickly becomes lively chattering dance that exploits the virtuosity of the soloists to the full. This Concerto provides the perfect foil to the Tchaikovskian Sturm und Drang that precedes it.

Together both works represent another unmissable release from the Reference Recordings and Pittsburgh Symphony stable.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Adrian Quanjer - April 30, 2020 (1 of 2)

Great review, superb playing. Another ‘must’ for Tchaikovsky fans. In terms of sound not to be missed either, especially by those with an up-market surround sound reproduction system that can take full profit of two basic elements on offer: an orchestra that can be driven to its limits from ppp to fff without falling apart, and the best possible sound engineering. I’ve only one question: Why has it taken so long? (recorded 4 years ago).

Comment by Graham Williams - April 30, 2020 (2 of 2)

Thanks Adrian.
I assume that they have been waiting for a suitable addition for the 43 min. Tchaikovsky symphony and the Leshnoff ( rec.June 6-9, 2019) is a pleasant surprise and fills the bill.