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R. STRAUSS: Suite from Elektra; Suite from Der Rosenkavalier (arr. Rodzinski) – Pittsburgh SO/ Manfred Honeck – Reference Recordings/ Fresh!

R. STRAUSS: Suite from Elektra (arr. Honeck/ Ille); Suite from Der Rosenkavalier (arr. Rodzinski) – Pittsburgh SO/ Manfred Honeck – Reference Recordings/ Fresh! multichannel SACD FR-722, 58:33 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

A brilliant performance of both works on this SACD.

Ex-Vienna Opera violinist turned outstanding conductor Manfred Honeck is taking his Pittsburgh band down a new road with this unbelievably concise and brilliant arrangement of music from the difficult, astringent opera Elektra. The work has been considered a monumentally difficult piece to cast and pull off for many years, and even though its once-formidable harmonies were considered grating to the ear, today they don’t sound too difficult, even if they are a world away from the opera that followed, Der Rosenkavalier. One of Herbert von Karajan’s initial calling cards was the fact that he managed to conduct Elektra several times before WWII, astoundingly from memory, as he did everything.

Honeck has given a lot of thought to the opera, not always simply excising passages and stringing them together in a suite, but evaluating the place of the vocal lines in relationship to the orchestra, and making other changes—in most cases, a thinning out, according to the conductor—to ensure more clarity in the performance. I must say that his results smack of a perceptive intelligence that knows and understands this thorny piece very well, and the 34 minutes are quite stirring, even if they won’t make it, as does Rosenkavalier—into many summer pops concerts!

Speaking of the Rose Bearer, this is the oft-played suite by Arthur Rodzinski, an eccentric human being if ever there was one, but a terrific conductor once upon a time, yet I’ll wager he never heard his effort bested than what Honeck produces here. In fact, the Pittsburghians are simply phenomenal, proving once again that there is no orchestra in America that surpasses them. Equal, perhaps, but not better.

This might be the most sensationally sounding Super Audio CD that I have ever heard. I know that is a pompous statement, but it is a thought that kept occurring to me over and over while auditioning it. The depth, breadth, and range of dynamics are astounding, making for an orchestral presence shakenly realistic. So to say the least, this is a real barnburner of a release, captured to perfection by the Reference contracted team at Soundmirror using five omnidirectional microphones and a few spots mics for highlighting. Fantastic! Get this.

— Steven Ritter

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