Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Five Pieces (arranged Manfred Honeck and Tomáš Ille from Five Pieces for String Quartet)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Recorded live at the Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, June 17-19, 2022
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: September 2023
CD No: Reference Recordings CD and PCM streams; PCM 24/192 and above and DSD downloads from NativeDSD.com: FR-752
Duration: 60 minutes
This is Manfred Honeck’s second Pittsburgh recording of this great Symphony. His first, which derived from a May 2006 concert, appeared on the Exton label and at first glance, because the timings – discounting applause – are virtually identical, you might wonder who needs this new one. Well, the new one is even more rhythmically alive and trenchant, with greater expressive and thereby emotional intensity, tension and far better sound.
In broader terms Honeck’s interpretive style thankfully remains the same in that he eschews the indiscriminate swooping, swooning and tempo changes that disfigure so many performances, uses forward moving tempi, but when needed isn’t afraid to relax.
He takes his time in the opening fate motif and as always, pays scrupulous attention to the numerous dynamic markings, which means the music rises and falls as the composer intended. At 5.40 the tempo change to Molto piu tranquillo is seamless, as is the accelerando for the extended forte passage where the woodwind scales and arpeggios and three note fanfares are beautifully articulated, he powers his way through the development, taking note of marked tempo changes and the coda is quietly purposeful.
The tempo at the start of the Andante cantabile is measured and you will rarely hear the famous horn solo played so quietly or eloquently – note the smooth move to Con moto at 2.45 and back to the opening tempo at 3.00. Unlike the first, this movement is full of mood changes and pace, which Honeck navigates effortlessly, aligned with some beautiful woodwind and string playing – like Mravinsky, live, not in the studio – they really do soar. The fate theme’s fortissimo outbursts are incisive and doom-laden; antiphonal violins allow you to hear their interplay. On a lighter note, at a flowing tempo Honeck brings a generous helping of Viennese charm to the gorgeous Waltz and its skittish second theme.
Unlike so many others he moves purposefully forward at the start of the finale – though Mravinsky and his Leningrad Philharmonic in Tokyo in 1975 (Altus) remain supreme here – the Pittsburgh strings sing the fate motif, now in the major key. Honeck gallops through the Allegro vivace with crashing timpani and blazing brass and is similarly impetuous in the coda. This is a great performance!
In the fill-up, Manfred Honeck and Tomáš Ille liked Schulhoff’s Five Pieces for String Quartet so much they decided, quite brilliantly, to orchestrate and rename them. Schulhoff died in Wülzburg concentration camp in 1942, aged 48, leaving behind a distinguished body of work and these dance pieces are tuneful and wonderfully inventive, boasting a host of seductive harmonies and rhythms, which should be in the core repertoire. As with the Tchaikovsky the performances are exemplary.
As always with Honeck’s Pittsburgh recordings you get his extensive programmes notes, where he talks about the composer and why he interprets the music in the way he does, which is fascinating. Sound-wise I listened to the DSD512 version from NativeDSD.com, which derives from a DSD256 master, edited in DXD and converted back, which has huge presence (you can actually hear the hall acoustic and instrumental timbres), clarity, power and an extended, realistic dynamic range.
I also streamed the PCM 24/96 and 16.44.1 CD quality versions. The first of which is similarly excellent if less life-like and with less space between the instruments than the DSD; while, as these things go, the 16/44.1 is up there with the best silver-disc can offer.