So I am curious if you liked Manfred Honeck's take on Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. I certainly did. Also check out my earlier piece on Honeck's explanation for his interpretation.
Also, I would like your take on Gramophone's trying to rank the top orchestras. I want to be perfectly clear that, while I do write CD reviews for Gramophone Magazine, I had nothing to do with it! Actually, I find these sort of things problematic.
Here is the review, please comment below (register first, upper right of this page).
Honeck, PSO excel as a team Friday, November 21, 2008
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Something special is going on at Heinz Hall with Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, even if the folks at Gramophone magazine don't know it yet.
The December issue of the venerable classical music magazine gives its list of the Top 20 world orchestras. Among the missing is your PSO. Of course, these sorts of lists abound with subjectivity, favorites and even whimsy, but it looks like the Andrew Davis/trio approach did indeed do damage to the PSO's international reputation, since it was regarded highly, especially in Britain, during former music director Mariss Jansons' tenure.
But all is not lost: Jansons leads the top- and sixth-rated orchestras on the list (Bavarian Radio and Concertgebouw), reminding us that when it comes to an orchestra's reputation, maestros have a tremendous impact. Honeck has the chance to create the same effect and get the PSO into lofty circles again.
Based on what transpired yesterday afternoon at Heinz Hall, it may not be a long wait. Honeck's direction of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, "Romantic," was a tour-de-force, a dramatic re-envisioning that captured elements of the mammoth work that usually go unheeded. Honeck's desire to express the folksy scenes Bruckner coyly suggests in this work puts him at some odds with the tradition of performing the composer slow and stately. But his approach was so gripping, it put the others on the defensive.
His brisker tempo revealed -- gasp -- rhythm in a Bruckner work, especially on the phrase level. Onomatopoeic touches such as a birdcall in the first movement and hunters galloping in the third thrust the work forward as much as they colored it. The work never seemed so alive as under Honeck's baton, but it could only happen if the musicians totally bought in, and they did.
The horns, led by principal William Caballero, got the call early and often, offering mahogany tone, whether playing subtlely or in full fanfares. The violas showed an exquisite cohesiveness in the second movement, with its balcony serenade above pizzicato strings. Honeck conducted it as if it were suspended in time -- as if Bruckner were dreaming about wooing women he so often failed with.
The trumpets played with excellent flexibility, while the trombones and tuba were stout and rich, but kudos also go to timpanist Christopher Allen, who lent an edge to the dramatic sections and nuance elsewhere, such as the dissolving end of the second.
Honeck opened the concert with an equally taut Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4. The soloist, Garrick Ohlsson, played with his customary virtuosic steadiness (one could set an atomic clock to his trills) and he flashed some fetching, delicate lines. But he was more in step with the orchestra than is usual, caught up in Honeck's precise and tightly drawn phrasing. The second movement, with its remarkable dialogue between solo and tutti, found the two playing together with the bond of chamber musicians.