Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck (b. 1958) is one of today's most respected conductors. In his youth he studied viola and violin and played in the Vienna Philharmonic. He also worked with Claudio Abbado and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. Honeck has led countless opera productions, particularly in Zurich, and appears often with major orchestras. He first appeared with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 2006; the following year was appointed Music Director. The Pittsburgh orchestra has an impressive history. Previous conductors associated with the orchestra include Fritz Reiner, William Steinberg, André Previn, Lorin Maazel, and Sir Andrew Davis. Since Honeck's appointment, the Pittsburgh Symphony joins the elite group of top American orchestras. Under Honeck's direction they have recorded four Mahler symphonies (1, 3, 4, 5) for the Exton label. There also is a recording of Strauss's Ein Heldenben, a work the orchestra took on tour two years ago and performed in Berlin's Philharmonie—you can see this remarkable performance on the internet. In it, the interplay between concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley and the rest of the orchestra is amazing. After this performance, the 29-yer old violinist was named concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic—Pittsburgh's loss, Berlin's gain.
For Reference Recodings, there are SACDs of Strauss symphonic poems, and Dvorák's Symphony N o. 8 coupled with a suite from Janacek's opera Jenufa. Now we have three more SACDS of live recordings all made in the fine acoustics of Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts. All of these are superlative, virtuoso performances. The Beethoven symphonies are high energy throughout, with a rather frantic but exiting pace for the final two movements of Symphony Nol 7. The Bruckner symphony also is impressive, challenging the finest other versions , with a scherzo of unusual power. Competition is keener for the Tchaikovsky symphony. A plus is the mightily impressive huge gong preceding the final pages of the symphony. Whatever the specifications of the instrument, it produces a soft but massive lasting sound that doubtless is what the composer had un mind. The suite from Rusalka, arranged by the conductor, is an intriguing filler, and of course it includes the famous Song to the Moon, exquisitely played by the Pittsburgh strings. All of these impress and are important additions to the catalog.
R.E.B. (May 2016)