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Bruckner: Symphony No. 7, Bates: Resurrexit - Honeck

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7, Bates: Resurrexit - Honeck

Reference Recordings  FR-757SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107 (1883, Edition Nowak)
Mason Bates: Resurrexit

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck (conductor)


REFERENCE RECORDINGS® proudly presents Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, in a new interpretation from conductor Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It is coupled with the first recording of Mason Bates’ Resurrexit, which was composed in 2018 on a commission from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of Maestro Honeck. 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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Recorded Live
March 25–27, 2022
Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Recording Producer: Dirk Sobotka
Recording Engineer: John Newton
Mastering: Mark Donahue
Reviews (1)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 6, 2024

Ten years ago, Reference Recordings released Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. At the time, it was for many a first encounter with Honeck’s perception of Bruckner's symphonic oeuvre at the helm of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 - Honeck). It generated much interest, forging immediate success among a critical music-loving hi-res community. His reading set him apart from several other great recordings in that it was as individually coloured as it was original in its conceptual format. It catapulted this Viennese Music Director and his Pittsburgh crew into the coveted realm of Bruckner specialists. For many all the more reason to look forward with much anticipation to his views on Bruckner’s Ninth, released in 2019 by the same American label (Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 - Honeck). Following a similar, though more spiritually inspired pattern, it immediately reached ‘benchmark’ status. With this third release, RR continues Honeck’s survey of Bruckner symphonies with perhaps his most widely appreciated Seventh, ‘The Tremolo Symphony’.

One of the difficulties conductors must solve is deciding on the correct ‘speed’. Not only are Bruckner’s markings either ‘hidden’, global or adjusted by each new edition, but there are also moments of silence in the score, pauses to be bridged without interrupting the flow and, by the same token, the projection of the symphony as a whole.

In an essay - what his extensive and detailed observations in the accompanying booklet in fact is - Honeck remarks, among many other things worth reading “.. I find that it (the seventh Symphony) is often played too fast if the tempo is considered too literally”, and elsewhere: “.. with Bruckner, a balance must be found in honoring the expressive intent hidden within the musical text rather than merely focusing on pure execution”.

In this kind of repertoire, time can be a deceiving factor. Comparing the duration of a movement with the same movement of another recording gives no tangible clue about it being played too fast or too slow. Honeck seems to have effectively discovered the ‘secret’ of managing tempi and flow in a manner that not only captures the listener’s attention but was also able to create a noticeable bond between the orchestra and the audience during the live (2022) recording in Heinz Hall; a phenomenon that audibly intensifies as the music unfolds. One might call it magic, but as I see it, it is a sign of exceptional craftsmanship paired with a firm understanding of what the composer must have moved and felt, plus an orchestra that is fully up to the mark to support the metaphysical vision of its Master. I may recall that both Bruckner and Honeck are spiritually connected through their devout Roman Catholic faith.

Straight from the ‘Ur Nebel’ - the tremolos in the strings - rising out of nothing at the beginning of the first movement, one becomes aware that something extraordinary is happening. Honeck guides his musicians in a deeply spirited musical experience, with expressive dynamics and great dramatic precision. From a compositional order, the second movement, the heart of the Symphony, was written after the first and the third movements were finished. Not that it matters, but in the meantime, in the real world, things had happened that must have influenced the ultimate course of the scoring, notably the poor health and subsequent passing away of Richard Wagner. It led to the inclusion of the so-called Wagner Tubas. One may wonder whether it could also have been to mimic the sombre-toned power produced by the largest organ pipes, which Bruckner, as an accomplished organ player, was familiar with. Whatever the case, the result lends the adagio remarkable emotional weight. In his rendition, Honeck gradually builds tension, thus conveying Bruckner’s state of mind as the movement develops into a solemn funeral character. There is some discussion about whether or not the inclusion of a cymbal clash at the climax of the slow movement was Bruckner’s idea or imposed on him by first interpreters. Honeck obliges (Nowak edition).

The tempo in the third movement is slower than most, but it does in no way attenuate the dynamism and pronounced almost demonic Austrian dancelike character mingled with the jubilant sound of nature and .. the brass section of the PSO! In his notes, Honeck dwells on many aspects of the Scherzo (and other movements for that matter) which I suggest interested listeners take notice of before and during listening. It explains in detail the why’s and how’s of his reading. The finale is the compositional crown lifting the Seventh into higher almost suprarational spheres. Honeck lets the Wagner Tubas triumph in the conclusion of another major piece of art.

Summing it up: Where others merely play the outside of the music, and in all honesty, some do it very well, Honeck unravels the inside, laying bare the deepest feelings, and I believe that is exactly what makes his contribution to the world of classical music so intensely valuable. Some may call it ‘mannered’. I do not. It is an interpretation by someone with obvious affinity. I think that we have here an authentic and honourable attempt to take the listener into the often complicated, but all the more laudable devotional life of one of Austria’s monumental composers.

To reach the top of the mountain, every climber should be of the same excellence. In his notes, Maestro Honeck explains that for him understanding three elements is of the essence for crafting a worthy Bruckner symphony: Spirit, soul and body. That is his part of the overall result. For the audience, however, I’d suggest that adeptness by four entities is decisive: The composer for the score, the conductor for the interpretation, the orchestra for the execution, and … the sound engineer to save it for the listener (and eternity). It is seldom that all four in conjunction arrive at the same spectacular height. An achievement that stands as a rock.

That said, among the many recordings in any format there is hardly a common view on which one carries off unanimous approval. Granting the various Bruckner devotees each their views and preferences, I dare say, however, that from whatever angle one looks at it, this latest addition to the plethora of existing recordings of Bruckner’s Seventh, is a serious challenge to any of the great Maestros who have recorded it before.

Comparing the two-channel downloadable 96/24 FLAC file with the multi-channel track on the SACD, the difference is much bigger than I thought. It is like a beautiful, though slightly craquelé painting on the wall versus being able to absorb the music in a gloriously three-dimensional, fine-tuned soundscape. The wizards of SoundMirror have done it again.

The choice for the ‘filler’ is noteworthy. The PSO commissioned it for Honeck’s sixtieth birthday. It is like a modern (2018) reminder of important junctures of Christianity, from the darkness of the mysterious Middle East to a tumultuous resurrection. The composition is beautifully melodious in a film music style in the best sense of the word, reminiscent of John Williams. Manfred Honeck and the PSO have set it down formidably, pulling all the stops towards the end.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2024 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Gregory M. Walz - July 7, 2024 (1 of 2)

Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony were scheduled to record Anton Bruckner's Symphony No.8 for commercial release during three performances from April 26-28, 2024 (a few months ago), but for some reason that program was changed to Beethoven's Symphony No.9 at the beginning of this year. I emailed the Pittsburgh Symphony for an explanation regarding the reasons for this change, and if the program and commercial recording would be rescheduled for a future season. A customer service representative forwarded my email to the artistic planning element of the organization, but I never received a response.

The announced 2024-2025 Pittsburgh Symphony season contains no Bruckner symphonies, and the season announcement does not indicate (as in past seasons) what if any concert programs (usually two) will be recorded by the Soundmirror production team for future releases on Reference Recordings. If the three concert performances template of a program is taken as the likely one for a commercial recording with Soundmirror and Reference Recordings, the candidates for commercial recordings from the 2024-2025 season led by Manfred Honeck would be the following:

February 14-16, 2025
Dvořák's Symphony No.9

March 28-30, 2025
Beethoven's Symphony No.6 (already recorded and released)

April 25-27, 2025
Beethoven's Symphony No.1

June 13-15, 2025
Shostakovich's Symphony No.10

Based on this template, the likely commercial recordings possibly planned for the 2024-2025 season would thus be Dvořák's Symphony No.9, Beethoven's Symphony No.1, and Shostakovich's Symphony No.10.

I have heard from reliable sources that commercial recordings of Schubert's symphonies Nos. 9 and 8 have been made, and almost certainly one of Mozart's Requiem, both from the 2022-2023 season. All of those works were performed during the 2022-2023 Pittsburgh Symphony season.

On February 21 and 23, 2025, the Pittsburgh Symphony is scheduled to perform Korngold's Symphony in F Sharp Major under Manfred Honeck, but that work is unlikely to be commercially recorded because it is only scheduled for two performances.

I find Manfred Honeck's and the Pittsburgh Symphony's recordings of Bruckner's symphonies Nos. 4 & 9 to be most interesting, but not especially compelling. Other listeners find them to be much more convincing. Perhaps this recording of No.7 will be more to my welcoming taste -- the cover art is much better (an abstract piece of colors) rather than a portrait-type image of Manfred Honeck -- and the work by Mason Bates is an added bonus.

I would hope that eventually Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony would program Bruckner's symphonies Nos. 5-6 and 8 (Honeck and Pittsburgh did perform the 8th Symphony in April 2017 at St. Vincent Basilica Parish), and record them for commercial release on Reference Recordings. Perhaps recordings of Bruckner's symphonies Nos. 1-3 are not out of the question entirely either.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - July 9, 2024 (2 of 2)

For your information: The PSO and Maestro Manfred Honeck will tour Europe this Summer. The dates are the following: Salzburger Festspiele (August 22), Grafenegg (August 25), Meran (August 29), Dortmund (August 31), Düsseldorf (September 1), Hamburg (September 3+4), Cologne (September 5), Wiesbaden (September 6) and Vienna Konzerthaus (September 7). Guest soloists are Yefim Bronfman, María Dueñas and Anne-Sophie Mutter, presenting works with the PSO by Mahler, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and John Adams.

Detailed info available at www.pr2classic.de