Brahms: Symphony No. 4; MacMillan: Larghetto for Orchestra
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, Music Director
Great Performances, Great Sound, and a World Premiere
2022 MusicWeb International Recording of the Year Nominee
Reference Recordings proudly presents the Symphony No. 4 of Johannes Brahms, with James MacMillan’s Larghetto for Orchestra, in exceptional performances from Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. We are excited that this release coincides with the orchestra’s 2021–2022 season and triumphant return to live concerts! These works were recorded live in beautiful and historic Heinz Hall, now celebrating its 50th Anniversary season.
Maestro Honeck honors us again with his meticulous music notes, in which he gives us great insight into his unique interpretation as well as the history and musical structure of Brahms’s final and beloved tragic symphony.
James MacMillan is the preeminent Scottish composer of his generation. His Larghetto for Orchestra was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in honor of the tenth anniversary of Manfred Honeck as Music Director. It had its world premiere performance in October 2017. This album contains the world premiere recording. The composer generously includes his own album notes about this solemn and repentant, but ultimately hopeful work.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, known for its artistic excellence for more than 125 years, is credited with a rich history of the world’s finest conductors and musicians, and is deeply committed to Pittsburgh and its region. Since 2008, the Pittsburgh Symphony has been led by its worldwide acclaimed Music Director Manfred Honeck. Past music directors have included many of the greats, including Fritz Reiner, William Steinberg, André Previn, Lorin Maazel and Mariss Jansons. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has always been at the forefront of championing new works, including recent commissions by Mason Bates, Jonathan Leshnoff, James MacMillan and Julia Wolfe. The Pittsburgh Symphony has a long and illustrious history in the areas of recordings and live radio broadcasts dating back to the 1930s. It has toured frequently both domestically and overseas since 1900—including more than 40 international tours. The Pittsburgh Symphony continues to be critically acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest orchestras.
This release is the twelfth in the highly acclaimed Pittsburgh Live! series of multichannel hybrid SACD releases on the FRESH! imprint from Reference Recordings. This series has received GRAMMY® Nominations in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Its recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 /Barber Adagio for Strings won the 2018 GRAMMY® Awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Classical Album. The Pittsburgh Live! series are recorded and mastered by Soundmirror, whose outstanding orchestral, solo, opera and chamber recordings have received more than 130 GRAMMY® nominations and awards.
FR-744SACD Hybrid SACD Contains 5.0 and Stereo SACD and CD stereo with HDCD (downloads are Stereo-only)
On This Recording
Brahms: Symphony No. 4
- I Allegro non troppo (12:38)
- II Andante moderato (11:06)
- III Allegro giocoso (5:54)
- IV. Allegro energico e passionato (9:26) James MacMillan
- Larghetto for Orchestra (14:56)
“these forces have been setting new standards in the standards, their records combining astonishing playing… Right on cue, their new album offers James MacMillan’s gnarly-to-seraphic Larghetto for Orchestra, atmospherically adapted from his choral “Miserere” for its premiere in Pittsburgh in 2017. It serves as a sanguine epilogue to a Brahms Fourth that is frankly frightening in its details, from the shudders of its opening bars to the disembodied end of Lorna McGhee’s flute solo in the final movement. There are moments when there is little to do but gawp at the excellence… it’s another demonstration of the great merit of Honeck and the Pittsburghers: They show you the value of listening again, and again, to that which you thought you knew.” —David Allen, The New York Times
“Does someone who already owns four different recordings of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 really need another? Yes. …there’s magic happening here that makes this old favorite (premiered in 1885) sound nearly brand new. In large part it boils down to one word: Clarity. …Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfed Honeck creates an environment that allows you to hear way down into the recording, with a whole world of small details you never knew existed. …It’s a stunning performance and worthy addition to any Brahms collection. The world premiere recording of James MacMillan’s Larghetto for Orchestra is another eloquent surprise that boosts this even further up my list of favorite new recordings for 2021.” —Richard Ray, Colorado Public Radio
“this beautiful performance is marked by transparent textures of rich tones as well as wonderful nuances in the strings and particularly powerful climaxes. … The Allegro giocoso is unique among the third movements of Brahms symphonies for its vigor, which Honeck emphasizes with his driving tempo. And for all its boldness, this performance is also sensitive. … The new recording is completed by a major new work, no mere filler” —Classical Voice North America
“At only a few seconds in, it seemed to me as if my conventional CD-player had reinvented itself, such was the quite stunning sound-quality from my speakers… Brahms’s Fourth Symphony has had a special place in my heart for more years than I care to remember. Listening to this splendid new recording has, of course, rekindled what was probably little more than a ‘schoolboy crush’ at the time. But, thanks to Maestro Honeck’s incredibly insightful reading, and the unwavering musical and technical support from all involved in the production of this exquisite new CD, I am embarked on a second love-affair with the work, but with one important distinction the second time around, I think. Honeck concludes by saying: ‘With the Fourth Symphony, Brahms confidently answered the question of how to continue the symphonic form after Beethoven’. Honeck, like any good facilitator has, I feel, empowered me to see and appreciate this truly monumental work in a completely new light. Formal analysis and thematic process have now given way to the most crucial thing of all, and top of Honeck’s agenda – the music itself. At long last, I feel we might just be in the presence of the true Millennium successor to Kleiber’s revered recording of Brahms No 4, now over forty years old.” —Philip R Buttall, MusicWeb International
“Honeck delivers in spades. …The sound, captured to perfection by the sound/mirror miracles in marvelous Super Audio, is wonderful, brilliantly detailed, warm, and illuminating when the moment calls for it.” —Audiophile Audition
“Through it all, the Pittsburgh Symphony plays the music as beautifully as it can be done.… James MacMillan’s Larghetto for Orchestra… works well as a “serious” coupling to a very serious symphony… Superb engineering makes this new release especially welcome. A winner all around.” —ClassicsToday
“Though capable of cushioned ‘European’ warmth, the Pittsburgh Symphony has a cleaner, brighter edge than traditionally associated with big-band Brahms.… As ever articulation is precisely honed, the smoothed-over and the brusque playfully juxtaposed. … Expert sound engineering helps convey the spatial element of a live performance, with solo trumpet and horn nicely distanced from the quiescent orchestral body towards the end. …a provocative listen, beautifully packaged.” —Gramophone
“I find this performance restorative in every sense, with a touch of Carlos Kleiber at its turning points. The regenerating steel town of Pittsburgh has a symphony orchestra to match the best in America.” —Norman Lebrecht, Slipped Disc
“This is a genuinely great performance, and a last-minute addition to my discs of the year shortlist. Honeck’s notes are a typically lucid, and the engineering is sumptuous.” —The Arts Desk