Dvorák's Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (not E minor as it says on the packaging), is one of the great listener favorites in the entire canon of Romantic symphonies, and it would seem difficult to add much to what previous musicians have found in it. The venerable Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and its Austrian conductor, Manfred Honeck, manage to do so on two counts in this live recording. The first set of innovations lies in Honeck's interpretation of the symphony, which is broad and gloriously noisy in the outer movements, and given to a sentimental sheen in the slow movement and Allegretto grazioso. You might love the finale or you might find its variations in tempo and its pounding timpani strokes a bit over the top, but there is no doubting the energy Honeck brings to the work, nor the careful way the powerhouse finale is set up (Honeck takes it as the work's center in a way that other conductors do not), nor the performance of the symphony's brass section. The second major innovation is the pairing of the Symphony No. 8 with a new Symphonic Suite from Janácek's opera Jenufa, carried out in disregard for the composer's prohibition against such suite-making. The suite was "conceptualized" by Honeck and executed by Czech composer Tomás Ille. It alternates dances that begin very close to where Dvorák left off with more dramatic junctures from this tragic opera, and it makes a nifty counterpart to the Dvorák. The engineers from the confidently named Reference Recordings label out of San Francisco remind you that the Pittsburgh Symphony's Heinz Hall is an underrated American acoustic treasure, and in all this SACD release is a fine pick for an album that will show off a good pair of speakers and have all the listeners stomping their feet along with the symphony's apotheosis-of-the-dance finale.
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, B. 163
I. Allegro con brio
III. Allegretto grazioso - Molto vivace
IV. Allegro ma non troppo
Leoš Janáček: Jenufa Suite (arr. M. Honeck and T. Ille)
Jenufa Suite (arr. M. Honeck and T. Ille)