Manfred Honeck conducts Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Barber’s Adagio for Strings

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COMPOSERS: Barber,Shostakovich
LABELS: Reference Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich • Barber
WORKS: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio for Strings
PERFORMER: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/ Manfred Honeck Reference Recordings
CATALOGUE NO: FR-724 (hybrid CD/ SACD)


Manfred Honeck’s Shostakovich sounds magnificent. From intense pianissimos to the shrieking upper register and full bass thwack of a grand peroration – which Honeck takes surprisingly at face value – there’s faith in what can sometimes seem like a time-serving symphony. I wondered whether Honeck’s determination to probe deep needed a slower tempo before the grinding first-movement development, but if the sequel means the most human and nurtured slow movement in the business, then it’s a small price to pay. The scherzo is writ huge, like Mahler on steroids, cellos and basses digging in at the start; the finale has all the trenchancy it needs, whatever you make of the ending.

More background knowledge in Honeck’s long programme note wouldn’t have gone amiss; nowadays you might expect observation of a possible first-movement quotation (the ‘Habanera’ from Bizet’s Carmen, for personal, plausible reasons too complicated to examine here) and a significant nod to one of his own Pushkin settings in the finale. And a musicologist wouldn’t claim that the first movement climax ‘depicts the simple but violent machine that insists to indoctrinate its ideology into the heads of the people’ (did any English speaker proof this text?). But whatever it takes to get results. And while Honeck also ignores evidence that Barber meant his Adagio as a lovesong to Menotti, that’s a deeply felt reading, too.


David Nice