Strauss: Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Reference fresh! FR-707SACD (SACD/CD). 2013. Dirk Subotka, prod.; Mark Donahue, Ray Clover, John Newton, engs. DDD. TT: 59:26

Audiophiles need no reminder of the many wonderful Reference Recordings, but this release is offered, quite aptly, on their new fresh! series. The recording team from SoundMirror offers us a new view of the Pittsburgh Symphony in their hall, one familiar from recordings by Command Classics, Everest, Telarc, and Exton. From the first note, one hears an immediate and direct instrumental sound, with instruments on a wide, deep soundstage that begins at the speaker plane and extends deeply. The ambience is enveloping, but less lush than what RR’s Prof. Keith O. Johnson offered in his first multichannel releases. I find this startlingly close to a real concert experience, where the hall acoustics have a more subtle influence and don’t intrude on the main event. The dynamics are as impressive. The low end, especially of the double basses, is as granitic as organ-pedal tones, and the bass drum, if not quite like Telarc’s, has huge impact. The performances are spectacular but not flashy. One hears the brilliance of Strauss’s scoring not only in the power of the tuttis but also in the inner details. Don Juan soars and sings. Tod und Verklärung swells and writhes. And for all the bumptious wit of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1894), I hear intimations of the sadness and cynicism of Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka (1911). This is a thrilling disc. I look forward to hearing more from this team, and its performers on both sides of the microphones.

© Stereophile & Source Interlink Media 2014