There are few things more wonderful in the life of a record collector than a really great recording of a repertory warhorse. It’s not just because greatness provides its own justification. There is always the suspicion, especially after hearing dozens of merely adequate performances of a work such as Dvorák’s Eighth, that its charms are wearing thin; that its status as a “classic” remains more a function of institutional laziness, because it’s “easy” music that everyone plays and takes more or less for granted.
Then, along comes a performance by a conductor who loves the music, who has genuine ideas about how it should go and what it reveals, who leads a great orchestra in aRead more performance that makes us listen to the piece afresh, and who reaffirms our belief not just in this particular work but in what it means to be a “classic”. Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offer just such an interpretation. Honeck’s personal touches are numerous and completely winning. There are the uproarious horns in the finale, and the delightfully warm phrasing of those “do-nothing” variations just before the boisterous coda, or the freedom with which Honeck handles the “birdsong” motives in the Adagio, the repetitions slightly varied so that the music comes spontaneously alive.
However, the real value in Honeck’s ideas isn’t that he has them–lots of conductors do–but that they invariably suit the music’s expressive point. In the coda of the first movement Honeck steps up the tempo to create a maximally rousing conclusion, and the effect is thrilling. I vividly remember how a Gramophone critic praised Claudio Abbado’s “refusal to whip up excitement in the first movement’s coda,” or words to that effect, at this same moment. That review has haunted me as a symbol of everything that is wrong with modern criticism, never mind modern performance. Here is Dvorák, doing everything that he can to “whip up excitement,” and the performers aren’t supposed to behave similarly? In short, Honeck gets it. He takes the music where it wants to–needs to–go, and in the process gives us one of a handful of shatteringly great recordings of this perennial favorite.
In addition, the coupling is much more than a mere makeweight. Honeck “conceptualized” this suite from Janácek’s opera Jenufa, and it was realized by Tomás Ille. It’s beautiful–more substantial than the rival suite on Naxos, less repetitious, and with one exception better organized. Most of the folk-dance music is here, but there is also some of the wild material from the end of the second act, which is very effective and offers something of the emotional charge of the original. There is more to this music, after all, than mere picturesque cuteness. The exception just noted occurs in the placement of Act 2?s closing pages just before the opera’s final duet, with the result that the suite seems to end twice.
Never mind: this is a substantial and valuable coupling to the symphony. It’s just as spectacularly played and, in vintage Reference Recordings fashion, sensationally engineered. Releases of this quality offer more than just an enjoyable listening experience. They are events of profound beauty and musical significance.
Jenufa: Suiteby Leos Janácek Conductor:
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: Brno
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
A Stunning Performance and RecordingJune 27, 2016By owen ryan (lakewood, CA)See All My Reviews"I first heard a small part of this recording while driving in the car. I liked what I heard but it did not sound like the Eighth as I remembered it so I looked into lt. Mr.Hurwitz's review hooked me. Upon my first listening I was stunned. As Stated by John Quinn on MusicWeb-Int ''far from a conventional interpretation--there's nothing remotely routine with it...powerful, exciting sound.'' This unique performance is delivered in gorgeous demonstration quality sound. So, how do I really feel about this recording? Well, to restate a late gun-nut spokesperson's adage: 'if you want to take my copy you'll have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers!' I've got to check out what else this creative Mr. Honeck has been up to."Report Abuse
***Must Hear!***July 9, 2014By Jason d. (Bakersfield, CA)See All My Reviews"This, the newest, release from the Pittsburgh Symphony and Reference Recordings is a remarkable melding of artistic vision from conductor Manfred Honeck and virtuoso execution from the Pittsburgh musicians. Honeck deftly brings out Dvorak's uniquely Czech character from the score, highlighting key passages with flexible dynamics, tempi, and instrument tone colors. The Maestro carefully explains his liberties in the accompanying CD booklet which is a wonderful glimpse into the musical workings of Pittsburgh's principle conductor. The orchestra itself plays with aplomb throughout; the horns contributing their special fire to the recording. What's more, the strings contribute a gloriously refined and soaring account of Dvorak's score, balanced perfectly with the winds in each movement. This is one of the finest recordings I've heard and for me ranks with the likes of Rowicki and Kertesz. Definitely a must hear performance! Janacek's Suite from Jenufa is an original arrangement from Honeck and is equally compelling and well played. Being unfamiliar with the source material I'm unable to make a comparison, but upon first listen I found myself enthralled, swept up in the emotion Honeck evinces in the work. A pleasant pairing and - for me - great introduction to unexplored music."Report Abuse