Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 - Honeck
Reference Recordings FR-752SACD
Classical - Orchestral
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
Schulhoff: Five Pieces for String Quartet (arr. Honeck/Ille)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, music director
REFERENCE RECORDINGS® proudly presents Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, in a significant new interpretation from conductor Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It is coupled with Erwin Schulhoff’s Five Pieces, newly arranged for large orchestra by Manfred Honeck and Tomáš Ille. The popular Austro-Czech composer Schulhoff ’s (1894–1942) career ended in a concentration camp during the Nazi’s rise in Germany, but not before composing a number of pieces inspired by jazz and dance influences. His 1924 Five Pieces for String Quartet is the most performed. This album was recorded live in 2022 in beautiful and historic Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in superb audiophile sound.
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Review by Graham Williams - June 30, 2023
There are currently scores of recordings of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony available in all formats that provide admirers of this evergreen masterpiece with an enviable if bewildering choice for their libraries. However, even in this saturated market, astute collectors know that any new recording on Reference Recordings from Manfred Honeck and his superb Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be worth investigating and this is certainly the case here.
In the accompanying booklet Maestro Honeck notes that the work holds a special significance for him as it was the first major work he conducted with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2006. The success of these performances led to his appointment two years later as the orchestra’s full time music director. The rest, as they say, is history.
As has become the norm with recordings from this source, the conductor begins by providing an illuminating essay outlining the work’s genesis and placing it in its historical context. He then goes on to discuss in considerable detail the interpretive decisions he has made in each of the Symphony’s four movements and the justification for them. I find these most helpful as I am sure most listeners would, though they have received criticism in some quarters as being unnecessary – I don’t agree.
Honeck takes the introduction to the symphony at a measured pace allowing one to appreciate the tonal depth of the Pittsburgh clarinet, bassoon and lower strings and providing suitable contrast for his fiery account ‘allegro con anima’ that follows. Throughout this movement one can’t fail to notice his use of rubato and dynamic shadings that for some may seem overdone but I found entirely convincing. Tchaikovsky marks the achingly beautiful slow movement ‘Andante cantabile’ but qualifies it with the words ‘con alcuna licenza’ (with some freedom). Following William Caballero’s exquisitely poised horn solo Honeck moulds the movement with considerable plasticity that gives the sweeping lyricism of the music its full head and, unlike some performances on disc, his forward pulse avoids any cloying sentimentality. The brief third movement – the waltz – is performed with unaffected lightness and grace aided by the conductor’s subtly nuanced interpretive touches while the finale finds the orchestra firing on all cylinders in Honeck’s white hot account of this movement. Even judged by the PSO’s own exalted standard the orchestral playing here is simply phenomenal.
Needless to say the sound quality is state-of-the art – crisply focused, finely detailed and immediate with a generous hall ambience courtesy of Soundmirror, Boston. The recordings were made in DSD256 and post-produced in DXD 352.8kHz/32 bit.
‘Five Pieces’ by the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) complete the music on this disc. These date from 1923 and were originally written for string quartet with each piece evoking the composer’s love of dancing at that period of his life. Manfred Honeck and Tomáš Ille have made the vibrant arrangement for full orchestra heard here, one which turns these miniatures into a colourful showpiece that gives every section of the orchestra the opportunity to demonstrate their virtuosity which they do with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
This is without doubt the finest modern recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in both musical and sonic terms that I have heard, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a further testament to the continuing success of the Reference Recordings triumvirate – Manfred Honeck, the magnificent Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the wonderful Soundmirror, Boston engineering team (Dirk Sobotka and Mark Donahue). Long may this continue.
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