Press Room

Out Today (July 28): Manfred Honeck Leads Pittsburgh Symphony’s Live Accounts of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth & Schulhoff’s Five Pieces on New Release from Reference Recordings

(July 2023) — Now concluding his 15th season as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO), internationally celebrated Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck has already been recognized with a Grammy Award and six Grammy nominations for his recordings with the ensemble. On their new album, he leads the PSO in live accounts of Erwin Schulhoff’s Five Pieces, arranged for full orchestra by Tomáš Ille and Honeck himself, and of Tchaikovsky’s stirring Fifth Symphony. Due for physical and digital release today (July 28) by San Francisco’s Reference Recordings, both performances were captured live last June in audiophile sound at Heinz Hall, the orchestra’s historic Pittsburgh home.

Austro-Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff was one of the first to draw inspiration from jazz, and from an early age his talents were recognized by such older composers as Dvořák, Debussy and Reger. Owing to Schulhoff’s Jewish descent and Communist sympathies, however, his music was blacklisted by the Nazi regime, and he died of tuberculosis in a Nazi prison camp. A longtime aficionado of the composer’s work, Honeck explains the appeal of Schulhoff’s Five Pieces, which were originally scored for string quartet:

“The Five Pieces, dedicated to composer Darius Milhaud, are character pieces, each based on a particular type of dance. What makes each movement especially unique is the way that Schulhoff dramatizes each one distinctly with witty exaggerations. … It was quite clear to me how to orchestrate this effectively for full orchestra and I knew that I wanted this to be the next in our line of new works performed and recorded for the first time.”

In live performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Honeck and Ille’s orchestral arrangement of the Five Pieces made a deep impression on Slipped Disc critic Norman Lebrecht, who writes:

“Honeck’s arrangements with Ille have clearly been written with the Pittsburgh orchestra’s strengths in mind. … This Schulhoff orchestration is undoubtedly an augmentation, a brilliant act of dramatic orchestration, realised with such flair and dexterity that it sounds as if the work was born as a tour-de-force for full orchestra.”

Composed five years before his death, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony traces a path from tragedy to triumph. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found the PSO’s performance of the work “hair-raising.” The review continues:

“Honeck and the orchestra attacked the work with mindful vigor, illuminating details not often heard and achieving astonishing contrasts in mood and volume and timbre. … Individual soloists were all spectacular, from French horn to clarinet to bassoon to trumpet.”

About recording the Russian masterwork, Honeck reflects:

“Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony has accompanied me since my earliest years as a conductor. Additionally, it took on special significance for me as it was the first major work that I conducted together with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2006, unaware that they were looking for a new Music Director at the time. I take pleasure in returning to this symphony and continually discovering new elements in the score and it gives me the greatest joy to record this work with the fantastic musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.”

As with his previous Pittsburgh Symphony recordings, Honeck shares his original insights on both works in extensive, meticulously written liner notes. The new album marks his 14th in the Pittsburgh Live! series of multi-channel hybrid SACD releases on the FRESH! imprint from Reference Recordings, all of which are recorded and mastered by the Pittsburgh Symphony’s long-time audio partners at Soundmirror. To date, the series has won Honeck and the orchestra Grammy nominations in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022, while their pairing of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony with Barber’s Adagio for Strings was recognized with the 2018 Grammys for both Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Classical Album. As Gramophone put it, when selecting the Pittsburgh Symphony as the only American nominee for its “2022 Orchestra of the Year” award: “Honeck’s tenure, since 2008, at the helm of this superb Pennsylvanian orchestra has really delivered.”

High-resolution photos are available here.

Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5; SCHULHOFF (arr. Honeck/Ille): Five Pieces
Label: Reference Recordings
Release date: July 28, 2023
Formats: CD and digital

# # #

© 21C Media Group, July 2023

Return to Press Room