A Pittsburgh Postscript
Writing reviews often involves telescoping one’s thoughts to fit into a limited space; in the process, meanings can become elliptical. But I didn’t want to let my statement about the callowness of Strauss’s “Tod und Verklärung” in my review of the Pittsburgh Symphony earlier this week stand without comment. What I meant to say is that Honeck’s thoughtful approach deconstructed the piece in a way that didn’t show all of its strengths; I think it's a piece that demands less head, more heart. The most memorable performance of it I ever heard was Wolfgang Sawallisch's with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1999, after the death of his wife. Sawallisch is anything but an unsophisticated conductor, but he is a direct one, and his reading was searing, and glorious. (That was on a program with “Metamorphosen” and Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death,” perhaps one of the most relentlessly somber orchestral evenings on record; my date that night observed that the whole audience was likely to return home ready to hit the bottle or slit its wrists. But the music was gorgeous.)
I also listened to the Honeck/Pittsburgh recording of “Ein Heldenleben,” which is absolutely terrific: here, I think, the depth and thoughtfulness of the reading pays off, and the quality of the sound on the SACD recording is an added bonus. It’s paired with the Forza del Destino overture and a clarinet concerto by Alan Fletcher – recorded live, like most orchestral recordings these days – but “Heldenleben” is emphatically the main event. The only catch is that the CD hasn't been released in the US yet; for the time being, you either have to order it from Japan or go to Heinz Hall, where I’m told you can buy it in the lobby during intermission.
(Amusingly, if you search for “Honeck Heldenleben” on Amazon, you get the Thielemann recording with Rainer Honeck, the conductor’s brother, who is concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic.)
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