Classical Reissue Reviews

REGER: Mozart Variations & other works – Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonic & other orchestras – Guild (2 CDs)

Guild resurrects rare wartime inscriptions of the music of Max Reger, inscribed by devoted disciples of his Romantic and contrapuntal art.

Published on May 27, 2013

REGER: Mozart Variations & other works – Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonic & other orchestras – Guild (2 CDs)

MAX REGER: Mozart Variations, Op. 132; Lustpielouverture, Op. 120; Serenade in G, Op. 95; Ballett-Suite, Op. 130;  Waldeinsamkeit, Op. 76, No. 3; Des Kindes Gebet, Op. 76, No. 22; Maria Wiegenlied, Op. 76, No. 52; Zum Schlafen, Op. 76, No. 59; Romantische Suite, Op. 125; Ein vaterlaendische Ouverture, Op. 140 – Staatskapell Berlin/ Fritz Lehmann/ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Eugen Jochum/ Concertgebouw Orch. Amsterdam/ Eduard van Beinum/ Anni Frind and Elisabeth Schumann, sopranos/ Groot Sym. Orch. van Zender Brussels/ Fritz Lehmann/ Berlin State Orch./ Robert Heger – Guild GHCD 2400/01 (2 CDs) TT: 2:30:08 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Assessments of the music of Max Reger (1873-1916) usually take into account his proficiency at the organ, and his fascination with fugal procedure derived from Bach. Reger considered himself the direct descendant of Brahms, a practitioner of “absolute” forms and Classical architecture fused to the harmonic syntax of Liszt, Wagner, and post-Romantic expressionism.  Orchestral composition figured large in the Reger output, beginning at age fifteen, when he composed an Overture in B Minor, subsequently destroyed. In 1904 he produced his full-fledged orchestral work, Sinfonietta. But it was the Serenade in G , Op. 95 that “legitimized” Reger’s repute in orchestral writing; and conductor Eugen Jochum became a fervent champion of the score, and it his 8 July 1943 of the Serenade that graces this collection.

This set opens with the “Comedy” Overture, Op. 120 (1911), as led by Fritz Lehmann (1900-1956), otherwise known for his sympathy in the music of Bach. More contrapuntal than “comic,” the music (rec. 10 May 1941 for Odeon) evokes an aggressive but relatively uninspired melodic content. More immediately Romantic in nature, the Serenade in G under Eugen Jochum (for Telefunken) casts a warm glow in its expansive first movement Allegro molto, the bucolic elements of which could be attributed to Dvorak or Goldmark. Jochum (1902-1987) offers a studio performance that emphasizes his own penchant for muscular clarity of line, romantic warmth, and a girth that aligns Reger with the symphonic legacy of Brahms and Bruckner. The ensuing Vivace a Bulesca seems to mix Mendelssohn and Wagner more or less effectively. The lengthy Andante semplice can boast a genuine lyricism, its clean melodic lines not far from the charm we find in Humperdinck, although leaning to the Bruckner side of dark coloring. Though marked Allegro con spirito, the last movement exhibits moments of Brahmsian contrapuntal power, with much of that composer’s sense of orchestration, horns and strings in athletic cooperation in a mix that often alludes to the C Minor Symphony.

Lehmann appears once more, this time with the Belgian ensemble Groot Symfonieorkest van Zender Brussel (7-11 April 1942 for Odeon), then under Nazi occupation, in the Romantic Suite (1912), based on three pantheistic poems by Joseph von Eichendorff. Set as three movements – Notturno, Scherzo and Finale – the music conveys a luxurious, lush, and “learned” patina in a style easily reminiscent of Richard Strauss.   The Ballett-Suite (1913) dates from Reger’s years in Meiningen, a venue Brahms valued, while the piece alludes to the Commedia dell’arte as its source of inspiration. The overt references to Colombine, Harlequin, and Pierrot and Pierette might acknowledge Reger’s debt to Schumann and his ability to give life to set figures from the theater. Eduard van Beinum (1901-1959), the co-conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra (rec. 17-21 May 1943 for Polydor), also worked, reluctantly, under the period of Nazi occupation. His is the first “complete” recording of the Suite. In six movements, the Ballett-Suite recording omits the movement dedicated to Pantalon. The impressionistic fourth movement, Pierrot et Pierret, suggests Reger knew the music of Debussy or his close cousin, Roussel. In Valse d’amour Reger created a genuine Viennese charmer of a piece, an attractive waltz that can compete with Lehar or Glazunov. The last movement Finale: Presto offers a tarantella that fuses Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss. Did Reger admire the Strauss of Aus Italien?  And why not?

Anni Frind (1900-1987), a celebrated Czech-born lyric soprano with a clear light voice, intones two Reger songs, Waldeinsamkeit and Des Kindes Gebet (rec. 1936 for Electrola) with conductor Bruno Seidler-Winkler. Both songs convey an especial magic, both of content and musical execution. This elegant singer eventually taught voice at Tulane University! The legendary Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952), noted interpreter of Richard Strauss, sings Maria Wiegenlied (rec. 1937 for Electrola), a melody that closely resembles one of the Brahms songs for contralto and viola, Op. 91. Zum Schlafen likewise captures an immaculate innocence. The conductor and orchestra receive no credits.

Eduard van Beinum leads Reger’s mostly consistently popular work, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart (for DGG, 17-21 May 1943), based on the theme from the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A, K. 331. Hermann Adendroth had recorded the work in occupied Paris, but he omitted the Fugue. The canny orchestration and the often delicate textures bespeak a master colorist at perfect ease in his compositional craft. Reger follows the Mozart original, for the most part, eight bars of statement followed by ten bars of reply, except in variations five and eight. For the Fugue, Reger exploits his affinity for the Brahms style, and so Beinum has the opportunity to realize Reger at maximum sonority while already forecasting the excellent Brahms interpreter he was to remain.

The sub-text of this war-time reissue has been the attempt by the National Socialist propaganda machine to utilize the music of Reger for its own perversely jingoistic ends. Apropos of this dubious honor, Reger’s Eine vaterlaendische Ouverture, “Patriotic” Overture, his last orchestral composition (1915), served that purpose, to a point. Conductor Robert Heger (1886-1978) made the only commercial recording (10 November 1942). The piece conforms to Reger’s penchant for polyphonic mastery: similar to his model in Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Reger’s work incorporates the German National Anthem, the chorale Nun danket alle Gott, and the patriotic songs Die Wacht am Rhein and Ich hab mich ergeben. Rarely performed, you can best judge whether anything in this “occasional” piece warrants in-concert resurrection.

—Gary Lemco

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