Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Barber Adagio for Strings (2017)

Shostakovich, Barber

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Manfred Honeck

2018 GRAMMY® Winner – Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical

In his fascinating and scholarly music notes, Maestro Honeck gives us great insight into the history of both pieces, and describes how he conducts and interprets each. He reminds us that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet government was offended by Shostakovich’s previous works. Under threat of arrest or banishment to Siberia, Shostakovich devised a new, less-complex compositional style for the 5th Symphony, still full of irony and double meaning, to appease Stalin and appeal to the common people.

The Adagio of Samuel Barber is his most performed work, and one of the most popular of all 20th Century orchestral works. It is beloved for its beautiful simplicity and emotion. Manfred Honeck describes Barber’s 1967 a capella version for mixed choir using the “Agnus Dei” text, and tells us his own interpretation is inspired by this text. He says it is “for me, without a doubt, the key to finding a deeper sense of this piece. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Adagio has enchanted and moved audiences around the world since its very first incarnation and has continued to do so in all subsequent versions born since.”

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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

For more than 115 years, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has been an essential part of Pittsburgh’s cultural landscape. The PSO, known for its artistic excellence, is credited with a rich history of the world’s finest conductors and musicians, and a strong commitment to the Pittsburgh region and its citizens. This tradition was furthered in fall 2008, when Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck assumed the position of Music Director with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Heading the list of internationally recognized conductors to have led the PSO is Victor Herbert, Music Director between 1898 and 1904, who influenced the early development of the PSO. Preceding Herbert was Frederic Archer (1896-1899), the first Pittsburgh Orchestra Conductor. The Orchestra’s solidification as an American institution took place in the late 1930s under the direction of Maestro Otto Klemperer. Conductors prior to Klemperer were Emil Paur (1904-1910), Elias Breeskin (1926-1930) and Antonio Modarelli (1930-1937). From 1938 to 1948, under the dynamic directorship of Fritz Reiner, the Orchestra embarked on a new phase of its history, making its first international tour and its first commercial recording. The PSO’s standard of excellence was maintained and enhanced through the inspired leadership of William Steinberg during his quarter-century as Music Director between 1952 and 1976. André Previn (1976-1984) led the Orchestra to new heights through tours, recordings and television, including the PBS series, Previn and the Pittsburgh. Lorin Maazel began his relationship with the PSO in 1984 as Music Consultant but later served as a highly regarded Music Director from 1988-1996. As Music Director from 1997-2004, Mariss Jansons furthered the artistic growth of the orchestra, and upon his departure, the PSO created an innovative leadership model with Artistic Advisor Sir Andrew Davis, Principal Guest Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and Endowed Guest Conductor Chair Marek Janowski. These three conductors formed the primary artistic leadership for the Orchestra until January 2007, when the PSO selected Honeck to take the reins at the start of the 2008-2009 season. In February 2012, Honeck agreed to extend his contract with the PSO through the 2019-2020 season.

Manfred Honeck

Manfred Honeck has served as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since the 2008-2009 season. After two extensions his contract will run until the end of the 2019-2020 season. His successful work in Pittsburgh is captured on CD by the Japanese label Exton. So far, Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben have been released to critical acclaim. The recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 has won an ICMA 2012 Award. Manfred Honeck and his orchestra present themselves regularly to the European audience. Since 2010, annual tour performances have led them to numerous European music capitals and major music festivals, amongst them Rheingau Musik Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Beethovenfest Bonn, Musikfest Berlin, Grafenegg Festival, Lucerne Festival and the BBC Proms. The 2012 tour focused on a week-long residency at the Vienna Musikverein. In August and September 2013, concerts took place in Grafenegg, Berlin, Bucharest, Paris, Du?sseldorf, Frankfurt, Lucerne and Bonn. From 2007 to 2011, Manfred Honeck was Music Director of the Staatsoper Stuttgart where he conducted premieres including Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Mozart’s Idomeneo, Verdi’s Aida, Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier, Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites and Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal as well as numerous symphonic concerts. His operatic guest appearances include Semperoper Dresden, Komische Oper Berlin, Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Royal Opera of Copenhagen, the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg and the Salzburg Festival.

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Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Barber Adagio for Strings (2017)

Shostakovich, Barber

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

    NativeDSD Reviewer

Ever since Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic made headlines in 1959 by performing Shostakovich symphonies in communist Moscow, Russia, there has been no shortage of recordings of the composer’s suddenly-popular works. There has also been no shortage of commentary about Shostakovich’s complicated relationship with the Soviet authorities who praised his early work but turned critical later on. Music critics have long speculated about the extent to which the composer’s reaction to this criticism is present in his work and to what extent it affects a conductor’s interpretation of his symphonies. This scrutiny has been most intensely applied to his Symphony No. 5. Shostakovich is reported to have said that his 5th symphony was “the practical, creative response of a Soviet artist to just criticism.” It was an immediate success, with a reception as triumphant as the heroic march in the final movement. But was it the triumph of a composer bowing to Soviet cultural control or a sarcastic comment on the persecutions he had endured? Nobody is quite sure. Nevertheless, besides the fireworks of that final movement, there are other places in the symphony that express more subtle emotions like melancholy, sturdy resolve, tender resignation, regret, and quirky humor that, political or not, reflect many varieties of just plain human sentiment. All of this requires a conductor of great finesse and a recording capable of rendering these diverse elements with clarity and aplomb. One of the latest releases from Reference Recordings brings together just such a combination. Manfred Honeck is making a name for himself and his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for his carefully considered and nuanced approach to the music of Richard Strauss and, in this case, the Shostakovich 5th. The high, quiet strings in the first movement float serenely above a low bass. The second movement is slower and more deliberate than in other recordings and is not as playful (a grim Soviet bear dancing clumsily?). And of course, there is that powerful finale. Nothing sounds rushed or ill-considered; it’s an interpretation that can stand proudly with the best. All of this is rendered by producer Dirk Sobotka and engineer Mark Donahue from Soundmirror, Inc. in a high-resolution DSD download that recreates the acoustic of Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts with a huge, rock-solid soundstage that is as deep as it is wide. Instruments do not appear from a flat wall of sound but project three-dimensionally from their proper place in the orchestra. The high frequencies sound particularly sweet and are a subtle improvement over the SACD. The dynamic range extends from near-inaudibility to blazing brass and floor-shaking fundamentals with not a hint of strain or congestion. There are many valid approaches to this symphony, but Honeck’s interpretation is among the most insightful. And the recording is simply stunning, especially considering that it was done during a live performance. Even in the quietest parts, there is nary a cough or breath to be heard. Even if you have multiple versions of this symphony, be sure to give this one a listen.

John Huxhold and Eric Meyer[read full review]

    Forbes [Best Classical Recordings of 2017]

“[Manfred Honeck] interprets – he even anthropomorphizes the music. It works! The music comes alive in uncanny ways. I’m wary of interpreting too much into composers and their works, especially Shostakovich. … Honeck’s profound empathizing with the music – equally obvious from his own, extensive liner notes – denotes a passionate, detail-happy, and deeply caring performance. Honeck lets the orchestra rip, cry, shriek – but he tends at least equally carefully, tenderly to the extensive piano and pianissimo passages. The sound of the orchestra, dark and burnished while perfectly capable of piercing anguish, and the superb recording quality (never dry, still detailed, warm but without hints of artificial beauty) make this a wholly absorbing listening experience. The Barber Adagio for Strings is an added, indulgently performed, tragic coda… altogether ravishing stuff.”

Jens F. Laurson[read full review]

    Audiophile Audition

"A breathtaking release of crushing power. Easily the most powerfully persuasive performance in the last 20 years, and without doubt is the finest recording this piece has ever received. The surround sound is perfect, the orchestra gleaming with a sensual sheen that bolsters its claim as one of the finest ensembles in the world. This outstanding album deserves a place in any collection worth the name."

Steven Ritter[read full review]

    HRAudio.net -

"The inevitable question of ‘do we really need another Shostakovich 5’ must be answered with a clear and unequivocal YES. In high resolution alone the total count stands at 29. However, the sound quality of many of them are not all that high (to say the least), while some are too expensive for most and, regrettably, a number do not belong to the top echelon. That leaves us with only a hand full of competitors, according to taste and leaning. As for this present release one might say that the producers have been sitting on a treasure trove for much too long. Recorded in the autumn of 2013 it is only now, almost four years later that - for reasons we may never know - this further example of the extraordinary marriage between Honeck and the Pittsburghers comes to light. What I particularly like about Maestro Honeck is that he tells the listener how he sees what he plays. His notes are well researched and extremely well written. Reading his views on the fifth correspond to advance listening, making one ready for the thrill when putting it to the test. I was not disappointed. Manfred Honeck does not just write about these things, he conveys them, too, with his impressive account of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony. Under his baton the spirited and passionately playing Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra proves once again what an immensely accomplished orchestral body it is. With such an exemplarily recorded Fifth, Manfred Honeck, the PSO and Reference Recording provide us with an obvious contender for the top of our wish list. Can’t think of any better introduction to their forthcoming European tour, starting at the end of August 2017."

Adrian Quanjer[read full review]

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Barber Adagio for Strings (2017)

Shostakovich, Barber

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Digital Converters:Horus
Editing Software:Pyramix
Mastering Engineer:Mark Donahue
Microphones:DPA 4006
Producer:Dirk Sobotka (Soundmirror)
Recording Engineer:Mark Donahue (Soundmirror)
Recording location:Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA USA
Recording Software:Merging
Recording Type & Bit Rate:DSD256

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This album is available as ST+MCH download (Stereo + Multichannel)
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FR724SACD: Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Barber Adagio for Strings
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Tracks
1.
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 - Moderato-Allegro non troppo
Shostakovich
00:17:16   Select quality & channels above
2.
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 - Allegretto
Shostakovich
00:05:47   Select quality & channels above
3.
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 - Largo
Shostakovich
00:15:19   Select quality & channels above
4.
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 - Allegro non troppo
Shostakovich
00:12:25   Select quality & channels above
5.
Adagio for Strings
Barber
00:09:21   Select quality & channels above

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