Manfred Honeck conducts Strauss’s Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Reference Recordings
WORKS: Elektra – Suite (arr. Noeck & Ille); Der Rosenkavalier – Suite (arr. Rodzinski)
PERFORMER: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck


A predictable grumble first. What’s the point of bleeding chunks from operas without the voices? We listen to Stokowski’s ‘symphonic syntheses’ of Wagner now more for the Philadelphia sound than anything else. And that might be said, too, for what Manfred Honeck has achieved with his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. At least there’s enough sheen and fine texturing to make you forget the proper context. The Elektra suite assembled by Honeck and ‘realised by Tomás Ille’ has plenty of balance between tension and repose, even if that means re-ordering the opera’s action; two phases of the great Recognition Scene between the heroine and long lost brother Orestes are interrupted by earlier music, plus a jump forward to the matricide. I miss, too, the scariest music in the opera, Clytemnestra’s waking nightmare, and the Viennese-waltz irony of Electra lighting stepfather Aegisthus to his death.

Yet it’s all magnificently played, the slow-burn approach paying off when the Dionysiac release of Electra’s death-dance finally bursts out of a leisurely peroration. Rodzinski’s familiar Rosenkavalier Suite means enduring music minus one in a filleted Presentation of the Rose and minus three in the great trio, though that’s superbly paced, the waltzes grandly lilt and the opening Prelude is the most erotic on disc after Bernstein’s with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Great, terraced sound, too: a fine achievement on its own terms if rather short measure – Salome’s Dance or even, for complete contrast, the Prelude to Strauss’s first opera Guntram would have been welcome as interlude.


David Nice