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Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ (Pittsburgh/Honeck)

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck, et al (Reference)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’
Christina Landshamer (soprano), Jennifer Johnson Cano (mezzo-soprano), Werner Güra (tenor), Shenyang (bass); Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
Reference FR-741 (CD/SACD)   62:44 mins

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 125th anniversary with performances of Beethoven’s Ninth, this recording being taken from four live performances in the city’s Heinz Hall over a period of three days. Chief conductor Manfred Honeck, whose approach to Beethoven here is nothing short of forensic, conjures an impressive account of this huge work that seems bent on marking itself as the unassailable definition of ‘monumental’.

In terms of sound and precision, the performance is meticulous, immaculate and even. That’s not to say that Honeck doesn’t occasionally play a little loose. The dynamics are extreme, not least in the all-important – and far too faint without fiddling with the volume control – cello declaration of the ‘Ode to Joy’ in the finale.

Honeck choreographs the gradual build of intensity in the first movement with skill, the Pittsburgh musicians energetically responsive. The Scherzo ranges between ebullient buoyancy and absolutely furious attack, whilst the Finale hammers along at very brisk pace once the brass have come in with a truly joyous ‘Ode to Joy’.

Everything about this performance has heft, from the orchestra to the soloists, with precision sculpting from Honeck verging on the maniacal, the Finale a joyous argy-bargy of conflicting forces, beset with moments of transcendent, expressive beauty.