BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, “Eroica”, Op. 55; R. STRAUSS: Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11 – William Caballero, horn/ Pittsburgh Sym. Orch./ Manfred Honeck – Reference Recordings FRESH! – Multichannel SACD FR-728, 65:17 *****:

Portrait Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven,
by Hornemann

Soundmirror’s five omnidirectional DPA 4006 microphones have once again been perfectly placed in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, with an orchestra that seems on the top of its game and a conductor who is proving one of the most thoughtful, energetic, and unique talents currently on the American scene. Every release is packed with in-depth and superbly detailed notes by the conductor who examines the piece at hand with a microscopic intensity and transparently illuminating intellect. After having presented us with Beethoven’s symphonies 5 & 7 back in 2015, we now move on to the transitional and earth-shattering third.

Honeck, while not at all convinced that the “heroic” appellation belongs to Napoleon Bonaparte, as is usually assumed, nevertheless takes the suggestion very seriously as to Beethoven’s aspirations of infused “Eroica” sentiments for the symphony in general. And this performance sounds like it. Enormous detail is taken to illumine various strata of winds, accents, dynamics, and normally subordinated lines that are brought to life, changing how this piece is usually heard. Timpani especially are granted easy access to the microphones, making for one of the noisiest and thundering Erotica’s on record. Every movement is intense, exciting, and quite moving, a fine contribution to the recorded legacy.

Portrait of Richard Strauss by Max Liebermann

Richard Strauss, by Max Liebermann

Strauss’s Horn Concerto, a staple of the industry, is also treated to the same sort of magnifying glass, with brilliant Pittsburgh principal William Caballero completely in accord with Honeck’s conception. The young Strauss, not even twenty years of age, dedicated the piano score to his father, the first horn in the Munich Orchestra, who summarily rejected it as unplayable, and who despised the Wagner worship of his son. But the piece is quite classical and even Schumannesque in conception and has become one of the most popular works for the instrument. Caballero assays the piece with flair, clarity, and outstanding technique.

A worthy release, urgently recommended.

—Steven Ritter

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