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Album of the Year 2021

Brahms: Symphony No. 4, MacMillan: Larghetto for Orchestra

Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

(3 customer reviews)
(5 press reviews)
Original Recording Format: DSD 256
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Exclusively Available in Stereo and 5 Channel DSD 256, DSD 128 & DXD plus Stereo DSD 512 at NativeDSD Music

Reference Recordings proudly presents 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 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 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.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, Music Director


Please note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Allegro non troppo
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Andante moderato
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Allegro giocoso
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Allegro energico e passionato
Macmillan: Larghetto for Orchestra - Larghetto for Orchestra

Total time: 00:54:00

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Original Recording Format

Release DateOctober 15, 2021

Press reviews

MusicWeb International

[…] It all adds up to an extremely rewarding and important release, where the considerable sum of the parts of fabulous orchestral playing, inspired conducting and superb sound. […]

Colorado Public Radio

Does someone who already owns four different recordings of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 really need another?


I’ll leave it to others to describe the technical details of tempo, phrasing and articulation. I’ll just say there’s magic happening here that makes this old favorite (premiered in 1885) sound brand new. In large part it boils down to one word: Clarity.

Many Brahms recordings sound like a swirling mass of melodies rumbling around in a sea of bass frequencies. Majestic but a whole lotta beauty lost in the mix.

Somehow, 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. Brahms was such a master craftsman, and this – especially the fourth movement – was his ultimate creation and symphonic swan song.

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.

NativeDSD Blog

Every new release in the Reference Recordings Fresh! Series can hardly go unnoticed. Surely not as long as Maestro Honeck’s personal ideas are so faithfully implemented by its seasoned members and the result equally faithful documented by Sound Mirror Inc. Indeed, the stage is magically set for the ‘bold is beautiful’ music lovers, to test the correctness of their preference, and the ‘lean’ crowd may then be hard-pressed to readjust their view or, as it often goes under these circumstances, their firm conviction.

However, not every big size Brahms does qualify to convince the ‘bolders’ nor the ‘leaners’. To conduct hundred-plus musicians to success requires not only musical insight and understanding but also a lot of management. In the wrong hands, things get easily out of sync and the sound stodgy.

I assume that serious listeners are by now aware that Honeck is not a run-of-the-mill craftsman. He has a view of his own to contribute to the world of classical music. With Honeck interpretation is consistently in accordance with what he lectures. The full lecture is given in his lengthy and detailed personal notes in the booklet. A must-read.

It would be short-sighted to believe that Honeck is the only one who can set down a memorable Brahms 4. This is now by far my first choice.

Need I say more? Yes. In my excitement, I nearly forgot to say that MacMillan’s Larghetto for Orchestra (recorded live) is another example, and a brilliantly crafted one at that, of a modern composer’s renewed interest in saying things in yesteryear’s proven language, without precluding anything of today’s values. In fact, the melancholy of his Larghetto is of all times. Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in honor of the tenth anniversary of Manfred Honeck as Music Director, its opening lament and mourning (miserere) turn into hope and optimism.

Summing it up: Maestro Honeck and his splendid musicians have done it again!

My first listen was based on a stereo FLAC file. I cannot recommend it. The sound is a far cry away from the real thing. When I listened to the DSD 128fs Multichannel file, everything changed from dark to light. Heaven opened up. Putting the volume further up than usual (and the quality can easily have it) the music instantly drew every bit of emotion out of my mind. This performance is so stunning that it deserves and needs to be played at the best possible resolution your (surround) music system can handle! It’s (almost) like sitting in the Hall allowing you to listen to the music instead of being disturbed by sound coming from the speakers.

Classics Today 10 out of 5

Superb engineering makes this new release especially welcome. A winner all around. Artistic Quality: 10 + Sound Quality: 10

Audiophile Audition 5 out of 5

Most people, when they know at all, might recognize Scottish composer James Macmillan for his early Veni, Veni, Emanuel, a percussion concerto that premiered in 1992. The Larghetto for Orchestra is a reworking of his 2009 Miserere, a choral work. Macmillan decided that the piece had instrumental proclivities within it, and fashioned this somber, though ultimately life-affirming piece for the celebration of Manfred Honeck’s tenth season as conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony. It is a fine piece, well worth hearing, and quite moving.

The sound, captured to perfection by the Soundmirror team miracles in marvelous DSD 256, is wonderful, brilliantly detailed, warm, and illuminating when the moment calls for it.

3 reviews for Brahms: Symphony No. 4, MacMillan: Larghetto for Orchestra

    I own several Brahms Symphony #4. After hearing Maestro Honeck and the PSO’s performance, this one rises to the top for me!

    The Symphony is dynamic and alive. The percussion is not just for emphasis but becomes a beautiful musical instrument engaging with the rest of the orchestra. I own the multichannel DSD 256 version and music flows deep and all around my soundstage. Soundmirror does a magnificent job making sure each part of the orchestra is heard distinctly and yet blends to form the whole of the orchestra.

    Reading Maestro Honeck’s detailed description in the accompanying pdf file gives you a great insight into the composition and his approach. Listen to the low res sample tracks to get an idea of this outstanding performance. There are sections of each movement that are absolutely thrilling, especially the last couple minutes of each movement ends.

    An excellent recording. And of course, an excellent performance of the symphony.

    I agree totally the earlier review from NativeDSD Listener Marcus DiBenedetto.

    I had never heard of Manfred Honeck before listening to this. I must say I am thoroughly impressed with him. His reading of Brahms 4th is just stunning and made even more so by the stellar Stereo DSD 256 recording. A great bonus is Maestro Honeck’s very interesting and informative notes in the album’s booklet.

    My go-to Brahms 4th has always been Bernstein. But Maestro Honeck has relegated Lenny to 2nd place for me here. Now, if only Maestro Honeck would record Brahms 1st – in DSD 256 – of course.

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