Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Honeck
Reference Recordings FR–741SACD
Classical - Orchestral
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
Christina Landshamer, soprano
Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano
Werner Güra, tenor
Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, music director
Reference Recordings® proudly presents Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in a new and definitive interpretation from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. We are excited that this new release is part of the Orchestra’s 125th Anniversary joy! Other Orchestra events will include a weekend musical celebration and the release of a digital program on February 27, the 125th anniversary date of their very first concert.
This album 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 unique interpretation as well as the history and musical structure of Beethoven’s most famous symphony.
This release is the eleventh in the highly acclaimed Pittsburgh Live! series of multichannel hybrid SACD releases on the FRESH! imprint from Reference Recordings. This series has received GRAMMY® Nominations in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Its recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 /Barber Adagio for Strings won the 2018 GRAMMY® Awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Classical Album.
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Review by Graham Williams - January 28, 2021
The majority of the ten previous releases by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for Reference Recordings Fresh! label have featured the music of composers most familiar to, and popular with, the concert going public – Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Bruckner et al. Inevitably, this has brought each of them them into direct competition with a cornucopia of recordings from from the past, all vying for attention by collectors. Nevertheless, the brilliance and charisma of Honeck’s conducting, his unique interpretive insights into the works he performs and the manner in which they are realised by the magnificent orchestra of which he has been Music Director for the past ten years, have resulted in each of these recordings moving effortlessly and justifiably into the select group of top recommendations for their respective repertoire.
The icing on the cake, of course, has been the stunningly realistic sound quality consistently achieved by the Soundmirror recording team of engineer Mark Donahue and producer Dirk Sobotka. Their longtime familiarity with the acoustics of Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh and close collaboration with the conductor in matters of post-concert editing has ensured an enthralling experience for both audiophiles and those seeking great music making.
A glance at his extensive discography indicates that Honeck has long been associated with the Austro-German repertoire that naturally places Beethoven at its core. His survey of the composer’s Symphonies for Reference Recordings has, so far, focused on the odd numbered works with outstanding accounts of symphonies 3, 5 and 7 to which this superb new recording of the Ninth can now be added.
As has become customary with these Pittsburgh releases, Manfred Honeck has contributed an engagingly readable essay in the liner notes entitled “Beethoven a Musical Manifesto for all Time” in which he begins by giving a concise account of the origins of the Ninth Symphony. He then goes on to provide fascinating movement by movement details of the interpretive decisions he has made regarding, tempi, dynamics, phrasing etc. I suspect, for many of listeners, some of these nuances may go unnoticed, yet there is no doubt that collectively they contribute to the unequivocal integrity of Honeck’s performance.
Honeck’s Beethoven as evinced from the previous releases is lithe and muscular; qualities that are at once evident in his incandescent account of the symphony’s opening movement. The conductor’s nod to period practice (violins divided antiphonally and timpani played with hard sticks) yields dividends throughout the performance while his control of dynamics in this movement is especially impressive. The scherzo that follows is bracingly energetic with marvellously crisp timpani to the fore, while the trio section, though taken at a rapid pace, is perfectly articulated by the excellent PSO woodwinds. As always, clarity and precision are a hallmark of Honeck’s performances
The slow movement – marked ‘Adagio Molto e Cantabile’– is exquisitely played and though Honeck’s swift tempo (with a timing of 12’.34” it is faster than some period performances!) may be of concern for some listeners, there is a natural and expressive unfolding of the long melodic lines and no lack of opulent lyricism in his shaping of the variations. The Finale generates plenty of anticipatory excitement in the opening orchestral recitatives and if perhaps bass-baritone Shenyang’s forthright delivery of “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne” sounds a touch strained at the start, he quickly settles down. The other three soloists, soprano Christina Landshamer, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and tenor Werner Güra, do not disappoint while the large and well drilled chorus – the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh – sing Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ with unbridled enthusiasm and excellent diction. The remarkable virtuosity displayed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra throughout is beyond praise, not least in the jubilant final bars of the symphony where the conductor tells us “Here, I have tried to go to the limit of playability” and he certainly succeeds!
The recording was compiled from live performances given at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (June 6-9, 2019) and once again the Soundmirror engineering on this 5.0 multi-channel hybrid SACD is unimpeachable.
As with most orchestras worldwide the devastating Covid-19 pandemic will have impacted on the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s future concert and recording schedules, but we are fortunate to be able to experience in wonderful high resolution sound this vibrant and electrifying account of Beethoven’s final symphonic masterpiece.
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