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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony N° 6 in B minor, Opus 74 “Pathétique”
Antonín Dvorák: Rusalka Fantasy (arr. M. Honeck/T. Ille)

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Noah Bendix-Balgley (Concertmaster), Manfred Honeck (Conductor)
Live recording: Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (April 17-19, 2015) – 67’03
Reference Recordings # FR-720SACD – Booklet in English (Distributed by Naxos of America)

Empathy and understanding are two flourishing intangible ingredients which a conductor must cogitate then parlay for the ear in order to elicit a composer’s deepest thoughts. Such pensive factors engulfed Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s life, and while the conveyance of his finale finale à la vie are rendered sublime by Manfred Honeck, the germination of musical tendrils only gets better in his réécriture personnelle of Dvorák’s lyrically rich fairytale opera, Rusalka. Reference Recordings’ award winning Soundmirror creates another unforgettable and unblemished journey of rarified diction unlike any other.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s (PSO) seamless array of exceptional vocabulary and erudite commentary inside the Symphony N° 6 creates a ‘frozen moment’ in time for end-of-life Tchaikovsky. Mr. Honeck approaches this music with utmost maturity and complexity yielding maximum exponential value.

Supporting the aforementioned notion, Mr. Honeck’s personally crafted dossier exercises unparalleled substance and a fervent ‘want’ to live vicariously through Tchaikovsky’s mind from the get go. Therein lies an unveiling of Tchaikovsky’s emotional restlessness and insecurities which inevitably haunted the Russian composer to the grave. Mr. Honeck is an unquestionable grand pourvoyeur of highly attuned articulation. From this writer’s stance, it is particularly interesting to read about the Pittsburgh conductor’s probing approaches (in bar and timing) relative to dynamics and sense of nuanced clarity: It’s no wonder this recording is better than better.

Structurally, the piece is excellent; however, several moments within the Pathétique are particularly indelible. The “Allegro molto vivace” houses razor-precise blistering scherzo-driven delineations and politely throbbing pulsations that have a tethered anxiousness which could otherwise drag down the piece. Manfred Honeck’s approach brims with superlative annunciation and pizzicati grandeur. Even the march-like jauntiness that caps the conclusive bars like an acute hammer will leave one breathless.

“Adagio lamentoso” well encapsulates a Tchaikovsky grappling with the secretive life as a gay man: those of us who have followed inside these footprints can sympathize with what must have been a tormented homme confus. Though difficult to describe in text, the PSO translates with respectful homage a man dedicated to his profession despite inescapable cerebral tumultuousness. Each of the Orchestra’s instrumental sections is 100% synchronized, and no tentative opening approaches exist. Manfred Honeck’s Symphony N° 6 channels the music with such realistic similarity to one being absorbed inside a riveting novel…but in this case, it’s no novel...it’s the life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Mr. Honeck’s personal arrangement of the Rusalka Fantasy (alongside technical assistance by Czech composer Tomás Ille) brings with it wistful remembrances of the beloved Dvorák opera. The summary composition is a cleverly woven suite in quasi-tone poem format. Opening lilting polonaise cadences (ref: Act II’s “The Ball”) regale the Fantasy with pomp and eloquent stateliness though Dvorák’s other numerous idées permeate with beautiful transition: Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon” anchors the middle with its soulful sweetness especially when accompanied by Noah Bendix-Balgley’s endearing solo violin melody line, the Jezibaba itchiness, dulcet nymph tones wafting in the air, Vodnik’s foreboding warnings, and grand finale Wagnerian brass imagery with its added weight.

Never is the Rusalka Fantasy stodgy nor wasteful of time. Mr. Honeck cites, “There is no question that any suite will forever remain incomplete.” But in this instance, Manfred Honeck has created and captured the essence of motif values that flow like water into a crystal clear pool.

Reference Recordings’ Tchaikovsky/Dvorák combination is a winner. This is consummate craftsmanship, and Manfred Honeck alongside his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are to be lauded on all fronts. Stellar.

Christie Grimstad




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