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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 - Honeck

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 - Honeck

Reference Recordings  FR-752SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
Schulhoff: Five Pieces for String Quartet (arr. Honeck/Ille)

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, music director


REFERENCE RECORDINGS® proudly presents Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, in a significant new interpretation from conductor Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It is coupled with Erwin Schulhoff’s Five Pieces, newly arranged for large orchestra by Manfred Honeck and Tomáš Ille. The popular Austro­-Czech composer Schulhoff ’s (1894–1942) career ended in a concentration camp during the Nazi’s rise in Germany, but not before composing a number of pieces inspired by jazz and dance influences. His 1924 Five Pieces for String Quartet is the most performed. This album was recorded live in 2022 in beautiful and historic Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in superb audiophile sound.

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Recording
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RECORDED: June 17–19, 2022
RECORDING LOCATION: Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA
PRODUCER: Dirk Sobotka
SOUND ENGINEER: Mark Donahue
MASTERING ENGINEER: Mark Donahue
Reviews (1)
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Review by Graham Williams - June 30, 2023

There are currently scores of recordings of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony available in all formats that provide admirers of this evergreen masterpiece with an enviable if bewildering choice for their libraries. However, even in this saturated market, astute collectors know that any new recording on Reference Recordings from Manfred Honeck and his superb Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be worth investigating and this is certainly the case here.

In the accompanying booklet Maestro Honeck notes that the work holds a special significance for him as it was the first major work he conducted with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2006. The success of these performances led to his appointment two years later as the orchestra’s full time music director. The rest, as they say, is history.

As has become the norm with recordings from this source, the conductor begins by providing an illuminating essay outlining the work’s genesis and placing it in its historical context. He then goes on to discuss in considerable detail the interpretive decisions he has made in each of the Symphony’s four movements and the justification for them. I find these most helpful as I am sure most listeners would, though they have received criticism in some quarters as being unnecessary – I don’t agree.

Honeck takes the introduction to the symphony at a measured pace allowing one to appreciate the tonal depth of the Pittsburgh clarinet, bassoon and lower strings and providing suitable contrast for his fiery account ‘allegro con anima’ that follows. Throughout this movement one can’t fail to notice his use of rubato and dynamic shadings that for some may seem overdone but I found entirely convincing. Tchaikovsky marks the achingly beautiful slow movement ‘Andante cantabile’ but qualifies it with the words ‘con alcuna licenza’ (with some freedom). Following William Caballero’s exquisitely poised horn solo Honeck moulds the movement with considerable plasticity that gives the sweeping lyricism of the music its full head and, unlike some performances on disc, his forward pulse avoids any cloying sentimentality. The brief third movement – the waltz – is performed with unaffected lightness and grace aided by the conductor’s subtly nuanced interpretive touches while the finale finds the orchestra firing on all cylinders in Honeck’s white hot account of this movement. Even judged by the PSO’s own exalted standard the orchestral playing here is simply phenomenal.

Needless to say the sound quality is state-of-the art – crisply focused, finely detailed and immediate with a generous hall ambience courtesy of Soundmirror, Boston. The recordings were made in DSD256 and post-produced in DXD 352.8kHz/32 bit.

‘Five Pieces’ by the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) complete the music on this disc. These date from 1923 and were originally written for string quartet with each piece evoking the composer’s love of dancing at that period of his life. Manfred Honeck and Tomáš Ille have made the vibrant arrangement for full orchestra heard here, one which turns these miniatures into a colourful showpiece that gives every section of the orchestra the opportunity to demonstrate their virtuosity which they do with boundless energy and enthusiasm.

This is without doubt the finest modern recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in both musical and sonic terms that I have heard, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a further testament to the continuing success of the Reference Recordings triumvirate – Manfred Honeck, the magnificent Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the wonderful Soundmirror, Boston engineering team (Dirk Sobotka and Mark Donahue). Long may this continue.

Copyright © 2023 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (22)
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Comment by hiredfox - July 2, 2023 (1 of 22)

I wish they would be a little more imaginative in their choice of recordings.

Comment by Gregory M. Walz - July 2, 2023 (2 of 22)

For the upcoming 2023-2024 season, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Manfred Honeck are scheduled to record for commercial release on Reference Recordings Bruckner's Symphony No.8, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, and Michael Daugherty's Fifteen: Symphonic Fantasy on the Art of Andy Warhol. This past season they recorded Mozart's Requiem and Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, and then Schubert's Symphony No.9, while at the end of the 2021-2022 season they recorded Bruckner's Symphony No.7 and a short work by James MacMillan. It would have been much more interesting if they had recorded Franz Schmidt's Symphony No.4 this past March 2023, but apparently that is too much of a deviation from the standard late-Romantic repertoire. Since Manfred Honeck's current contract with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra lasts through the 2027-2028 season, they should be able to record at least eight (8) more major symphonic works; perhaps there will be a completion of a Beethoven symphony cycle, and possibly Bruckner's 5th and 6th symphonies.

Comment by Dominique MAGNIER - August 11, 2023 (3 of 22)

Thanks Gregory

Comment by ubertrout - August 16, 2023 (4 of 22)

I'll never complain about a great Schubert 9 or Mozart Requiem. We have too many mediocre live recordings on SACD and not enough examples of great recordings of these pieces.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - August 16, 2023 (5 of 22)

I downloaded the album (DXD 24/352.8, surround) and have listened to it several times. It never fails to amaze me how Maestro Honeck somehow creates power behind the music. The wonderful melodies are a joy to hear, especially with powerful music interweaving and creating drama. Turns out that David Hurwitz agrees that this is a great rendition. Review: Honeck's Thrillingly Visceral Tchaikovsky Fifth, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sedKJn597Ds. The sonics are superb.

Comment by Rudolf de Vries - August 16, 2023 (6 of 22)

Has anyone compared the dsd 256 versus the dxd version of this recording? I have both dsd 256 (for example Honeck’s Strauss and Shostakovich) and dxd (his Beethoven 9 recording) recordings available: in my audio set up the dxd recordings have better dynamics and sound more open than the dsd 256 recordings but the tonality of the latter is more beautiful (or less ‘raw’ if you wish). Wondering what your sonic experiences are.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - August 17, 2023 (7 of 22)

Glad you asked, although I suspect most folks on this site prefer the physical SACD (DSD 64). I prefer DXD and I happen to own Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Honeck in both DSD 256 and DXD 24/352.8. My DAC is an eight channel surround DAC (ExaSound S88). It will play all audio codecs. Why DXD? To me it sounds the same or better than DSD. Nowadays, most recording/mastering studios record in DSD and master in DXD. I want the master file when available. For us consumers, this is usually 24 bits FLAC but TRPTK does makes available 32 bits (WAV). I use JRiver Media Center. It does not apply any filters or adjustments to DSD music. Roon will make DSD adjustments but it is expensive and I prefer DXD so I stick with JRiver. I had my listening room professionally calibrated with convolution filters and some room treatments. I want to use those filters to improve "room" response so I play DXD files.

Hearing a difference between DSD and DXD is subtle. Your equipment, audio player, listening room, treatments and calibration filters will, I think, drive your decision.

Comment by Rudolf de Vries - August 17, 2023 (8 of 22)

Thanks for your reply, Marcus. I play with the Roon based Wadax Reference server and Wadax reference dac. I used to download the files from Turtle Records - Bert van der Wolf’s recordings for (mainly) Challenge Classics - in both the dxd and dsd 256 format. Bert records natively in dxd and I clearly prefer that format to his dsd 256 versions: more openness’s and greater dynamics; the dsd 256 version sounds more ‘polite’ or ‘polished’ but also less ‘real’ to my ears (Bert allowed me join one of his recording sessions of the Prokofiev symphonies by James Gaffigan in Hilversum, the Netherlands, so I have a good idea how the orchestra sounded live). As regards Manfred Honeck’s recordings I need to sort this out yet. Thanks again for your comments.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 18, 2023 (9 of 22)

Reading these comments, I couldn’t help thinking that some people -and not just the earbud community- continue to maintain that there is no audible difference between SACD and RBCD.

Comment by Rudolf de Vries - August 18, 2023 (10 of 22)

Well, imo they are dead wrong provided the audio set up is of good quality (and there is nothing wrong with the ears).

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - August 19, 2023 (11 of 22)

Adrian, long ago I gave up on the SACD vs. RBCD argument. What was important to me was not only high resolution music files, but making music available in multi channel surround. My system was designed specifically to play surround music. I'd like to add that I also purchase downloads now directly from "Spirit of the Turtle" or TRPTK. I've emailed Bert van der Wolf (Turtle) and Brendon Heinst (TRPTK) a few times and both are very responsive. On one occasion, I asked Bert for a DXD version of an older album. Within a couple days he'd remastered it for me. Fantastic! Thankfully, Native DSD is now offering the DXD codec, such as this Reference Recording album.

Rudolph, lucky you to sit in on a recording session. I own all those symphonies.

I'll say it again, we music lovers are truly blessed to have such talented and dedicated recording engineers. Of course, great orchestras and conductors are equally important.

Comment by hiredfox - August 20, 2023 (12 of 22)

This site was of course set up to promote SACD in physical form and that remains its purpose today. It is gratifying that post pandemic the recording companies continue to provide a steady stream of new titles on a media for which the last rites were sounded a decade and a half ago by a sceptical music industry and the hi fi press.

After twenty years or more of collecting SACD discs and a lifetime in the concert hall, I remain convinced that DSD recording - especially when played back on state of the art equipment like Ken Ishiwata's non converting SA-10 - provides a more realistic and satisfying account of the music you hear in the concert hall than any 24 bit PCM recording whatever the sampling rate. It's not challenging to determine why that might be.

Undoubtedly and again for rather obvious reasons the sound quality of PCM improves at higher sampling rates such as DXD.

Since we the customers have little say in what format is used by the recording companies, one has to accept the compromises and 96khz / 24 bit sampling is infinitely more agreeable than any 16 bit RBCD recording that I've ever heard.

Comment by Rudolf de Vries - August 21, 2023 (13 of 22)

Why are you so certain that dsd is a better (recording) format than PCM? In the world of audiophiles there are a lot of people who think the opposite.

Comment by hiredfox - August 21, 2023 (14 of 22)

May I refer you to the SA-CD.net archive for endless debates about this comparison.

It is doubtful that I would be able to convince you. Each to their own. We all hear things differently

Comment by Rudolf de Vries - August 21, 2023 (15 of 22)

I am not dogmatic in this regard and only reported my listening experiences with - if I may be so ‘arrogant’ - a state of the art hifi system. I would not be surprised at all if the original recording format, be it dsd or pcm, is a very important or maybe even a key factor in what we in the end prefer at home. As mentioned before, Bert van der Wolf (currently) records in dxd; so no surprise to me that I (clearly) prefer his files in dxd to dsd 256. It might quite well be the opposite though if the original recording is in dsd (256). That is exactly the reason why I asked my question regarding the Reference Recordings files by the Soundmirror team.

Comment by hiredfox - August 25, 2023 (16 of 22)

Well if I am honest with myself, I haven't enjoyed this recording very much at all and certainly cannot agree with an earlier review assessment of this performance as being the best ever Tchaikovsky 5 on disc. Nowhere near good enough for that accolade and not for the first time I find Honeck's interpretation too studied and ponderous. There are also for me some pace issues between movements which confuses interpretation.

Regrettably I also have issues with the recoding quality, "regrettably" because in my eyes (and to my ears!) the Sound Mirror team can do little wrong. In the first movement especially with the deep bass opening bars there is too much reverberation at play, presumably from the recording venue acoustic. Overall, there is a general lack of inner detail finesse in orchestral passages except when particular instruments are spotlighted when there is too much emphasis on those instruments. My system also seems to concentrate too much of the soundstage near the centre even though overall it is sufficiently wide. This hampers separation and I found it difficult to follow individual tune lines from different sections of the orchestra.

Comment by Graham Williams - August 25, 2023 (17 of 22)

John writes
"Well if I am honest with myself, I haven't enjoyed this recording very much at all and certainly cannot agree with an earlier review assessment of this performance as being the best ever Tchaikovsky 5 on disc"

Where is the 'earlier review assessment' that said it was the best ever Tchaikovsky 5 on disc?
My review stated "This is without doubt the finest modern recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in both musical and sonic terms that I have heard ..." and I stand by that.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 25, 2023 (18 of 22)

Always good to hear other people’s comments and one is, of course, free in its appreciation, but here I am with Graham. Maybe John should listen in surround. It’s amazing. Elsewhere I said: “Seen through French eyes, the Sobotka/Donahoe combination operates like the best French winemakers: Capturing the full flavour using the best technical means, whilst remaining within the limits of the art.”

Comment by Graham Williams - August 27, 2023 (19 of 22)

Beautifully put, Adrian.

Comment by hiredfox - August 28, 2023 (20 of 22)

Nothing personal in my remarks Graham, just how I hear it.

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