DVOŘÁK Symphony No 8 JANÁČEK Jenufa Suite
Manfred Honeck’s handling of the Eighth Symphony’s opening phrases is rapturously beautiful, the cellos truly espressivo, the initial bird-like entry of the flute played, as Honeck himself anticipates in his own booklet-note, ‘quite flexibly’. When the lusty string theme arrives at 1'23", Honeck encourages his cellos to play out so that the theme’s five note ‘tail’, which is soon repeated, is given musically valid prominence. The main body of the movement has at its centre hammering chords, beyond which Honeck cues a dramatic rallentando. The coda too is extremely malleable: listen from 9'05", to the sudden speeding, the prominent horns, then the way the brakes slam down before the music scampers off again in top gear.
The Adagio is similarly rich in drama: take the alternation of legato woodwinds and fierce strings near the beginning, or (from 7'10"), the deathly transition where, beyond the clarinets’ exit, a mere wisp of string tone cues ominous horns and fearful tremolandos. The outer sections of the Allegretto grazioso are brisk, tripping and graced with subtle portamentos that sound entirely natural (unlike the glutinous slides favoured by some of Honeck’s less tasteful rivals). Of particular note is the relatively relaxed Trio, and the lively coda with its cheeky quick glissando. The finale alternates tender poetry with wild dance rhythms, those trilling horns that so often cower behind the rest of the orchestra brought boldly to the fore, the symphony’s closing moments deliriously exciting.
The Symphonic Suite from Janáček’s Jenůfa, ‘conceptualised by Honeck, realised by Tomáš Ille’, approximately follows the drift of the opera’s plot, incorporating along the way wildly extrovert dance music, meditative episodes of rare beauty (cue from 3'48"), a storm and a conciliatory ending. Again Honeck’s interpretation is rich in imagination and the playing of the Pittsburgh Symphony scales the heights. Having recently lost Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel, and with all due respect to a whole host of fine conductors currently performing, I would say that Manfred Honeck is one of the few remaining masters of the rostrum whose CDs – and there are all too few of them – are events to cherish.