Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 (SACD review)

Also, Barber: Adagio for Strings. Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Reference Recordings Fresh! FR-724SACD.

Many years ago the announcer, author, and music critic Martin Bookspan wrote of the Shostakovich Fifth that it is "... a symphony more than ordinarily pretentious, brooding, mystical, sardonic and sometimes vulgar. In short, it has many of the same virtues and faults one finds in the symphonies of Mahler." I've always agreed with most of that assessment. Even though Shostakovich and Mahler lived in different eras, their approach to symphonic writing was at least similar, the many changing moods of their music probably contributing to both composers' enduring popularity.

After his music fell out of favor with the Soviet government, Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote his Symphony in D minor in 1937 to ingratiate himself with the State. On the surface the piece appears to be traditional, inspirational, and patriotic; but later the composer would deny its patriotic bent, claiming it to be, in effect, satiric. Consequently, there are any number of ways to approach the score, some, like Leonard Bernstein doing it hell-bent-for-leather and others, like Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh Symphony, doing it in a more-restrained, orderly manner. Whether you take to Honeck's reading or not, there is no questioning he has an orchestra that responds beautifully to his every demand.

The opening movement, a Moderato-Allegro non troppo, is, as the tempo marking indicates, both gentle and reasonably vigorous. It starts slowly, lyrically, and gradually becomes faster and more agitated, but not too fast, building in momentum, and then ending in relative calm. Well, at least that's the way conductors usually approach it. Honeck, however, takes it at a more leisurely clip throughout, more quietly, building the contrasts more studiously, building the tensions and releases in broader incremental steps. There is more sadness here than anger in Honeck's view.

The second-movement Allegretto is a variation of the first theme of the preceding movement, taken at a speed just a little slower than Allegro. It serves as a scherzo, its tone satiric, mock-heroic. One can hear the influences of Mahler in this music more strongly than in most any other part of the symphony. Again, Honeck takes his time with the score's development, and I found that in his doing so he misses some of the music's more ironic elements.

The slow movement, the Largo, is the actual soul of the symphony, with long, engaging melodies predominating. It's a most-personal expression of the composer's feelings, and it's here that Honeck particularly excels, imparting to the music a heartfelt dignity, a longing, and a mournfulness that are quite affecting.

Manfred Honeck
The finale generally takes up where the first movement ended, with a clear martial or marchlike character. Whether the music is joyous and life-affirming or hectic and cynical is pretty much up to the conductor. Shostakovich seemed to want it both ways: to please the government and to please himself. Anyway, again we hear the Mahler influence (the final movement of Mahler's First Symphony comes to mind), and even though Honeck doesn't attack it with anything like the animation of a Bernstein, he stays in keeping with the rest of the presentation, and it comes off with a cautious expressiveness.

Accompanying the Shostakovich we find the little Adagio for Strings (1936), which the American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981) prepared for string orchestra from the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. It may seem at first glance an odd choice for a coupling, given that the Shostakovich symphony can be so feverish and the Barber so peaceful. However, I suppose that's the point: to juxtapose the two works, both of them written at around the same time yet in contrasting places and circumstances. And no doubt Maestro Honeck wanted especially to play up the similarities between the Barber piece and the sadness of the Shostakovich symphony's Largo. The real question, though, is whether Maestro Honeck does the Adagio justice, and the answer is yes, despite Honeck's penchant for drawing out phrases longer than always necessary and over emphasizing the point.

There are any number of good recordings of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony one can choose from, among them Maris Jansons and the Vienna Philharmonic (EMI), Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Royal Philharmonic (Decca), Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Sony), Maxim Shostakovich and the USSR Symphony (RCA), Leopold Stokowski and the Stadium Symphony Orchestra (Everest), Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony/RCA), Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Decca), Andre Previn and the London Symphony (RCA), Neeme Jarvi and the Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos), and the list goes on. Where does Honeck and his orchestra fit in? Almost anywhere in a crowded field, depending on how you like your Shostakovich played. For me personally, I prefer the energy of Bernstein and Stokowski; the sweep and grandeur of Ormandy; the authority of the composer's son, Maxim Shostakovich; and the simple directness and overall rightness of Haitink, Jansons, Ashkenazy, and Previn. Still, Honeck for his few idiosyncrasies, makes a viable alternative.

Producer Dirk Sobotka and engineer Mark Donahue (of Soundmirror, Boston) recorded the music live at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA in June (Shostakovich) and October (Barber) 2013. They made it for multichannel SACD playback, two-channel stereo SACD playback, and two-channel regular CD playback. I listened in the two-channel SACD mode.

Despite the music being recorded live, which too often results in a close-up, one-dimensional sound, this one is excellent. It's moderately distanced, with a fine sense of space and place. Dynamics are wide but not overpowering; frequency response is extended, notably at the high end; the depth of image is lifelike; and detailing is realistically defined without being bright or edgy. Thankfully, too, Reference Recordings edited out any hint of applause. It's one of the best-sounding live orchestral discs of the year.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

Classical Music News of the Week, January 13, 2018

Announcing The Crypt Sessions, Season 3

Unison Media is excited to announce Season 3 of its acclaimed concert series The Crypt Sessions, featuring intimate classical music and opera performances in the remarkable Crypt chapel underneath the Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The season will begin February 1, 2018, with the Attacca Quartet performing Beethoven's extraordinary String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132.

Due to rapid sell-outs and long waiting lists, each new concert will be announced immediately after the one preceding it, first to the mailing list, then via The Crypt Sessions Web site ( and Facebook page.

Each Crypt Session will feature a pre-concert reception included in the ticket price, with a tasting of food and wine that is paired to the themes and moods of that evening's music, prepared by Ward 8 Events.

All proceeds from ticket sales of The Crypt Sessions are donated to the Church of the Intercession, where the crypt is located.

Listing Info:
The Crypt Sessions Presents: The Attacca Quartet
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132
February 1, 2018 | Wine & Food Tasting 7PM | Show 8PM
Tickets: $75, including Wine Tasting & hors d'oeuvres
For complete information, visit

About The Crypt Sessions:
The Crypt Sessions ( is a concert series presented and produced by Unison Media ( and curated by Andrew Ousley, located in the crypt chapel underneath the Church of the Intercession in Harlem, NY. The series features intimate performances by some of the world's top classical music and opera stars, with programs tailored to the crypt's extraordinary atmosphere and remarkable acoustic. A performance by Conrad Tao was chosen as one of The New York Times' Best Classical Music Performances of 2017.

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Steven Isserlis in PBO SESSIONS Jewish Songlines
"Jewish Songlines: An Exploration of Music and Heritage"
February 8, 2018 | 8 pm
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA

Join Nicholas McGegan, renowned cellist Steven Isserlis, and members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at the Contemporary Jewish Museum for a 90-minute exploration of Jewish music and heritage. The program will feature music from the 18th to the 20th centuries, including a Bach Prelude arranged by Ignaz (Isaac) Moscheles and Isserlis's own arrangement of Maurice Ravel's Deux mélodies hébraïques and Felix Mendelssohn's "Scherzo" from the Octet for Strings, Op. 20.

Steven Isserlis and Nicholas McGegan will engage in deep discussion about the impact of Jewish composers, illuminated by a multimedia presentation, as well as Steven's own Jewish heritage.

Get tickets now, as space is limited. General admission: $25. Save $5 with discount code: PBO18

Order by Phone Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm - (415) 295-1900, or on-line at

--Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale

92 Street Y February 2018 Concerts
Saturday, February 10, 2018, 8:00 pm
Art of the Guitar
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC
Jorge Caballero, guitar
(92Y recital debut)

  Friday, February 16, 2018 at 9:00 pm
92Y – Buttenwieser Hall, NYC
Christoph Prégardien, tenor
Julius Drake, piano
(92Y recital debut)

Saturday, February 17, 2018, 8:00 pm
Distinguished Artists
92Y - Kaufmann Concert Hall, NYC
Emmanuel Pahud, flute
Alessio Bax, piano

Tickets are available at or 212-415-5500.

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Five Boroughs Music Festival Presents Lorelei Ensemble
On Friday, February 9, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., Five Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) presents the acclaimed all-female vocal group, Lorelei Ensemble in concert at Manhattan's Church of St. Luke in the Fields, NYC.

The program, entitled "Impermanence/Reconstructed," features works from the early-Renaissance through contemporary Eastern, Western and American sounds from across the ages including selected motets by Guillaume Du Fay and Torino Codex; David Lang's i want to live; selections from Scott Ordway's North Woods; Peter Gilbert's Tsukimi; Steve Reich's Know What Is Above You; selections from Joshua Bornfield's Reconstruction; Shawn Kirchner's Rose/Riddle Rainbows; Joshua Shank's Saro; Adam Jacob Simon's Joys Above His Power; and Moira Smiley's Utopia.

Program information:
Friday, February 9, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Church of St. Luke in the Fields | 487 Hudson St. | New York, NY 10014
Lorelei Ensemble "Impermanence/Reconstructed"

Tickets: VIP Preferred Seating - $40.00, General Admission - $25.00

Please visit or email for more information.

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

The Wallis Presents World Premiere of Ory Shihor's "Last Thoughts: Schubert's Final Works"
In the last few months of his short life, prolific Austrian composer Franz Schubert wrote some of the most miraculous music ever created. Now, acclaimed Los Angeles-based pianist Ory Shihor presents the story behind Schubert's last compositions in the world premiere of "Last Thoughts: Schubert's Final Works" at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (The Wallis) on Saturday, January 20, 2018 at 7:30pm.

With words by master musical storyteller Hershey Felder, Shihor's program includes the two of three final piano sonatas created by Schubert, who bridged the worlds of Classical and Romantic music in the early nineteenth century.

Single tickets are now available for $25 – $75. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Women's Rights Explored in New Oratorio by Van Nuys High School Students
"Hear Our Voice: A Woman's Journey," a timely new oratorio written by Van Nuys High School students for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's Voices Within Oratorio Project, will be premiered by students and members of the Master Chorale on Friday, February 16 and Saturday, February 17 at the school's auditorium. The Friday performance will be for fellow students. The Saturday performance at 1 PM is presented as a free community concert and is open to the public.

Friday, February 16, 1:00 PM
Van Nuys High School student performance

Saturday, February 17, 1:00 PM
Community performance – free and open to the public

Van Nuys High School Auditorium
6535 Cedros Ave, Van Nuys, CA 914

--Jennifer Scott, LA Master Chorale

Huydts World Premiere on Orion's 25th Season's Third Program
As a special tribute for its 25th anniversary, The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, performs a world premiere on the season's third program, "Old Meets New," featuring guest violist Stephen Boe.

Performances take place March 4 at First Baptist Church of Geneva-Chapelstreet Church, Geneva, Illinois; March 7 at the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago, Illinois, joined by a Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras quintet; and March 11 at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, Illinois.

Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets.

For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit

--Jill Chukerman, The Orion Ensemble

The Genius of Bach's Passions
American Bach Soloists' interpretation of the St. John Passion
February 23 - 26 2018
Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis, CA

The two monumental Passion settings that survive from the pen of J.S. Bach (the St. John Passion, BWV 245, and the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244) are universally acknowledged as the pinnacle of perfection in the genre. For some listeners, the musical beauty of these works alone sets them far above all similar compositions. Others are inspired by the unsurpassed dramatic impact Bach's music lends to the already intensely emotional texts of the Evangelists' accounts. Bach's St. John Passion sets not only chapters 18 and 19 from the fourth Gospel, but also contains two interpolations from the Gospel Gccording to St. Matthew, a relatively small number of aria texts, and a series of carefully chosen stanzas from the rich genre of Bach's chorales.

Friday February 23rd 8:00 pm
St. Stephen's Church
3 Bay View Avenue, Belvedere, CA 94920

Saturday February 24th 8:00 pm
First Congregational Church
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday February 25th 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday February 26th 7:00 pm
Davis Community Church
412 C Street, Davis, CA 95616

For tickets and information, call 800-595-4TIX (-4849) or visit

--American Bach Soloists

The Wallis and the Arturo Sandoval Institute Present the Arturo Sandoval Jazz Weekend
The program features four nights of extraordinary music celebrating both the legendary trumpeter and emerging jazz artists.

Thursday, January 25 through Sunday, January 28, 2018.

The Wallis will be the place for jazz lovers this month when the performing arts center, in conjunction with the Arturo Sandoval Institute, present a special four-night musical celebration curated by the dynamic American jazz legend Arturo Sandoval from Thursday, January 25 through Sunday, January 28.

Sandoval shines a spotlight on his legacy, as well as up-and-coming musicians, in an exciting jazz series featuring a Master Class, sponsored by the Arturo Sandoval Institute; two extraordinary nights of emerging jazz artists, whom Sandoval proudly calls the "Young Lions;" and an unforgettable concert of his own with special guests.

Single tickets are now available for $20 – $75. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

The Chelsea Symphony Performs Lemmon, Saint-Saëns, Colina, and Sibelius
The Chelsea Symphony, featured in the Golden Globe-winning Amazon Originals show "Mozart in the Jungle," announces the continuation of its 2017/18 season, entitled "Sea Change," with concerts on January 26 and 27 featuring a World Premiere by Eric Lemmon, Camille Saint-Saëns's Violin Concerto No. 3 featuring violinist Deborah Nixon (1/26 only), the World Premiere of Michael Colina's Isles of Shoals featuring flutist Michelle Stockman (1/27 only), and Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 5.

Friday, January 26th at 8:30 PM
Saturday, January 27th at 7:30 PM
St. Paul's Church, 315 West 22nd Street, NYC
Conducted by Reuben Blundell, and Mark Seto

For complete information, visit

--Elizabeth Holub, Chelsea Symphony

Opera Gala (CD review)

Alessandra Marc, soprano; Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Delos DE 3240.

The program on this 2000 Delos release consists of well over an hour of live music-making from soprano Alessandra Marc and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton. The orchestra by itself performs several Verdi overtures, La forza del destino and Luisa Miller, and Puccini's Preludio sinfonico. Ms. Marc sings arias from Bellini's Norma, "Casta Diva" and "Guerra, guerra"; Donizetti's Anna Bolena, "Al dolce guidami"; Richard Strauss's The Egyptian Helen, "Zweite Brauchtnacht"; Barber's Anthony & Cleopatra, "Give Me My Robe"; and Puccini's Tosca, "Vissi d'arte," and Turandot, "In questa reggia." Ms. Marc has a lovely dark-toned voice that especially complements the several less well-known selections, and the Dallas Symphony Chorus do an outstandingly beautiful job in their brief appearances.

I had only a couple of misgivings about the disc. First, I would have preferred hearing from both a soprano and a tenor and maybe others at a "gala," putting a little more variety into the show. "Gala" suggests a festive event featuring, I would have hoped, more than a single star. Ms. Marc performs a recital. Maybe it's a gala recital.

Alessandra Marc
Second, I have never been fond of live recordings, this one made on the nights of September 17-19, 1998, in the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas. Trying to keep an audience quiet for more than an hour is the first problem, although the coughs and sneezes that customarily accompany these things seem pretty well under control. The applause between each number is another matter. Yes, it helps put the living-room listener into the concert hall to participate in the sense of occasion. Yes, it is also a distraction to anyone who just wants to enjoy the music.

Nor did I care to play the session as loudly as I found necessary to experience Delos's "Virtual Reality." Alas, nothing is perfect. Some recordings sound wonderful at low gain and get raucous, bright, or shrill as they are played louder; this one, though, sounds boring at low levels but comes to life at higher volume. In fairness, it sounded fine played back on my 5.1-channel home-theater system in another room, where the rear speakers handled some of the ambient informaton, and the sound is brighter and leaner to begin with. In any case, close all the doors and windows before listening, unless your neighbors are opera lovers.

So, as I say, played loudly, this album of live opera extracts can sound excitingly alive. Played back at a normal-to-soft level, and it will sound dull and indistinct, fading well back from the speakers, veiled and soft. I'm mentioning this because the first impression some listeners may get is that the disc is too distant and clouded. In fact, it was recording engineer John Eargle's usual way of miking, using Delos's "Virtual Reality" process, a technique that picks up a good deal of side and rear-wall ambiance for the sake of multi-channel, surround-sound playback. Ordinary two-channel reproduction may suffer, however, in that the reflective sounds can overpower the direct sound unless the volume is tweaked up a notch.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa