During the BBC Proms of 2011 the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Manfred Honeck gave two concerts. I had serious reservations about the crudely loud brass that Honeck encouraged in Tchaikovsky Five, which I heard in the Albert Hall, and, the following night, in Radio 3’s live relay, another Fifth, Mahler’s, the latter a sequence of imbalances, pertinently described by one reviewer as a “concerto for brass band”. I also wondered about the hearing of those PSO members sitting closest to the brassy onslaught.
Honeck and his orchestra have been building a substantial catalogue for Reference Recordings, heavyweight repertoire, which I have made a point of avoiding due to the above reservations. With Beethoven Six, at least, ‘Storm’ movement aside, there is less opportunity for ungainly domination by one orchestral section.
Well, up to a point: ear-splitting trumpets whip-up the tempest, and other exaggerations abound. With recorded sound that comes across as bolstered, especially in the basses, Honeck doesn’t hang around: the first movement lacks for joyfulness, the second being hasty at times. The ‘Peasants’ get on with it, too, horns to the fore (and with a few extra piccolo notes) and if the final ‘Thanksgiving’ seemed to have something going for it, then the over-projection of dynamics and certain instruments ensures, together with the aggressive reproduction, that this performance is a dead duck. It matters not with many so-much-better less-contrived accounts available, such as Böhm, Boult, Cluytens and Colin Davis, to name but four.
One for the ‘get rid of’ pile, save there is also Steven Stucky’s atmospheric and painterly sixteen-minute Silent Spring to consider. Great piece. Better sound. Whether impacting the rolling waves of the sea, or suggesting waters travelling rapidly, or investing heartfelt expression and building a seismic climax organically arrived at, this is a powerful, thrilling and moving opus from the late composer (1949-2016), scored colourfully and complexly for a large orchestra and superbly played. Reference Recordings FR-747 [SACD].